When I was a boy in NJ, soccer wasn’t on TV. There were seven and a half channels: Channel 2 (CBS), 4 (NBC), 5 (Local), 7 (ABC), 9 (Something), 11 (Something), 13 (PBS), and U (International). When you went to the U Channel, there was another dial which you would turn to find grainy TV shows from distant lands. Ukrainian chefs, soap operas in Spanish, and, on Sunday mornings, Italian soccer games. I was a young soccer fan who was looking for a soccer fix between New York Cosmos games so I would turn to this channel. And it was awful. Watch the YouTube video (below) and remember that (1) There was no title saying Torino vs. Sampdoria. For me, it was just fuzzy guys vs. fuzzy guys. (2) The goals at Cosmos games were a religious experience. These goals, not so much. And (3) My understanding of staticky Italian is not very good. If a soccer fan who goes to a local sports store just to stare at posters of soccer players can’t bear to watch a weekly live soccer game, that game is awful. Bottomline, while kids today have BeIn Sports, Fox Soccer Plus, and FuboTV on their big screen TVs, I was staring reverently at a Franz Beckenbauer Adidas poster (below).
I’m not saying I’m like a war hero. But I’m like a war hero. And like the handful of heroes that are on earth today, people who have sacrificed so much so the next generation can have a better life, I appreciate things that many take for granted. Today, I appreciate my big screen TV, my remote control, and the seemingly limitless number of soccer games I have to choose from.
The International Champions Cup started last Friday in Chicago when Manchester City played Borussia Dortmund. Tonight, two hours from my home, Juventus will play Bayern Munich. If I was 10 years old and it was 1977, right now, despite it being 8 hours before game time, I would be sitting in Lincoln Financial Field in order to breath the same air that was breathed by the Juventus and Bayern players. Instead, I’m 51 years old, it’s 2018, and the air in front of my big screen TV will be just fine. I’m sure Lincoln Financial Field is a beautiful venue. But my big screen TV rules. And I have a glut of soccer to watch. The Copa Libertadores, Cope Sudamericana, and the Brazilian Serie A are in full swing. The Leagues of England, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, and Argentina are only a few weeks away. It is wonderful that the top European club teams have decided to play preseason games throughout the world. But do not be fooled. While the England-Belgium game in the 2018 Group Stage looked like a World Cup match, it was not. While the International Champions Cup Tournament looks a lot like the Knock-out Stage of the Champions League, it is not. Like England-Belgium, the starters are resting, the reserves are excited to get some play time.
Before anyone complains that my International Champions Cup negativity is unjustified, the missing players for tonight’s game are Ronaldo, Dybala, Higuain, Cuadrado, Mandzukic, Costa, Matuidi, Benatia, Khedira, Spinazzola, and Szczesny. That’s a starting 10 plus a goalie. Tonight, for Juventus, five great defenders, three great midfielders, and two good, not great, forwards will be on the field. But this is not the Juventus you’re going to see in the Serie A in three weeks. The likely Juventus starting 11 will be Perin; De Sciglio, Barzagli, Chiellini, Benatia, Alex Sandro; Pjanic, Can, Marchisio; Bernardeschi, Clemenza.
For Bayern, the missing players will be Neuer, Boateng, Müller, Hummels, Kimmich, Goretzka, James Rodriguez, Tolisso, Süle, Thiago, Lewandowski, and Rudy. This is a starting 10 plus a goalie and a sub. Tonight, Bayern will field a squad with a quality goalie, three great (and one unknown) defenders, two great (and one questionable) midfielders, and three great forwards. The likely Bayern starting 11 will be Ulreich; Rafinha, Stanisic, Martinez, Bernat; Vidal, Thiago, Sanches; Robben, Wagner, Coman.
Tonight’s game will be excellent. As excellent as the England-Belgium Group Stage game. But why? Do you really believe that the post-break reserves on the top teams in Europe are going to play a more beautiful, more entertaining brand of soccer than the top players on the top teams in South America? My friends, you’re better than this. I did not suffer through 1970s New Jersey so you can squander your soccer opportunities. During any 24 hour period, we can watch close to 100 different soccer games. And, in a couple weeks, the options and quality of options will be even more ridiculous. Undeniably, Juventus and Bayern Munich are both filet mignon. And tonight, on Lincoln Financial Field, by definition, they will be serving filet mignon. But it’s not the filet mignon you ate at the Champions League a couple of months ago. It’s the filet mignon you found in the fridge the next morning after the Champions League a couple of months ago. Alternatively, tonight, in South America, they will also be serving steak. Though a different cut of steak and prepared differently, it’s fresh off the skillet and delicious. There will be plenty of time to watch these great European club teams in the coming months. Tonight, while you can, while it is fresh, watch the Copa Libertadores, Copa Sudamericana, or a Brazilian Serie A game. In July, Fluminense vs. Palmeiras is delicious. In September, I might prefer Juventus vs. Bayern Munich. But in July, for heaven’s sake, order in-season, order the South American steak.