Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Date with David Beckham


by Jan Snyder

After three years of disappointing soccer fans in Houston, David Beckham finally kept his date with us and made it to town. Houston is home to the two-time champions of Major League Soccer (MLS), the “Forever Orange” Houston Dynamo. Beckham led his team, the L.A. Galaxy, onto the field at Robertson Stadium at the University of Houston for a game that was important in the standings.

                              photo: Jan Snyder
The first season that Beckham was due to visit the Dynamo, he was on the injured list. The next season he had to serve a suspension and the only game left was the one against the Dynamo. His fans were crestfallen yet again, stood up twice by the beautiful Brit (who is newly-bearded, and a scruffy beard it is).

But on a lovely sunny day, the two teams met and the Beckham fans had their chance to see the hero of soccer live and in person.

I know – this is a hockey blog! But let me tell you that as a casual fan, I saw some similarities between the two sports. Believe me, I am the most casual fan and I don’t even pretend to know the rules or understand soccer or its history. However, my sister Kim, who lives in Pittsburgh, and her husband, Don, are Anglophiles and she is one of Beckham’s strongest supporters. After she came to town the first year he was due to arrive, she was let down, but vowed to return. In something of a serendipitous moment, Kim got sick last year as Becks got suspended. Neither of them made it to town!

The third time was the charm! Neither was sick, injured or suspended. Kim secured us fantastic seats in the eighth row right at midfield. Since Beckham is a midfielder, that was a no brainer on her part.

I know hockey fans are boisterous and fanatical, but soccer fans aren’t far behind, especially in the enthusiasm department. The 16,000 or so fans that jammed the stadium wore their orange proudly while two different sections sang, danced, banged on drums, unfurled gigantic flags and bounced at the slightest provocation.

                               photo: Jan Snyder

Finally – the moment arrived and Beckham ran onto the field. My sister was delighted, to say the least, as were the many others proudly wearing their #23 Galaxy jerseys.

Warm-ups also seemed similar to hockey – the players stretched, took some shots on the goalie, and bounced the soccer ball around. Hockey players often have a few players on the team who bounce a soccer ball around before games – another similarity.

After the ceremonial walk to the field with kids accompanying each team member, the anthem was sung and the game was on. (Aside: the stadium boasted a Canadian flag, I assume in support of the Toronto MLS franchise.)

Naturally, each sport has a goalie, but in soccer, he wears very little padding as he defends a huge net! Soccer goalies need to be free of equipment to make the gymnastic moves required of them – we saw quite a few from both sides. Hockey goalies are so weighted down by equipment that a fan doesn’t notice a lot of mobility.

There are defensemen, forwards and midfielders (I’m not sure what the distinction is between the forwards and midfielders) and everyone seems to run the entire length of the field often. So we know hockey players and soccer players are in great shape from all the running and skating!

The game began and I watched Beckham since he is the world’s best known soccer player, but my allegiance had to be with the home team Dynamo. One of the Dynamo players, midfielder Stuart Holden, visited my office about a year ago and I had the opportunity to meet him. He is quite a charming fellow and determined to preach the gospel of soccer to anyone who will listen. Turns out the two midfielders spent a good bit of the game close to each other, making it easy for me to watch both of the players that I knew.

For a few hours, they played and we watched. At almost the end of the game, there was still no score when what should happen? A fight! Aha, the hockey and soccer synergy reappears. One of the Dynamo players took exception to something Beckham did and did something back. Beckham shoved him and we quickly had a little melee. Push, shove, push, shove – the end result – Dynamo player Brian Ching got a “red” card, which got him tossed out of the game but also means he is out for the team’s next game. Beckham got a “yellow” card but wasn’t asked to leave the premises. In hockey parlance, Ching got a ten minute major and Beckham a two minute minor.

Even with the added minutes that are tacked on at the end of each soccer period, neither team scored and the game ended in a 0-0 tie. Here is where soccer could take a tip from hockey and have a shoot out. No more boring ties! Shoot outs are big fan favorites in hockey and here we could have seen Beckham attempt one of his “bending” kicks. But no, the teams exchanged pleasantries, some exchanged jerseys and Becks applauded the crowd and his many supporters. As he walked to the tunnel, he removed his jersey and tossed it to a fan, something hockey players do only once at the end of the season with the “shirts off our back” promotions.

Beckham did play the entire game, never leaving the field for a minute. The goalies on each team were impressive and one of the Dynamo players made a fantastic scissor kick stop to save a goal. The only bad thing that happened was that I forgot I was in Texas where the sun never seems to lose its brilliance. Without a hat, I got sunburned on my head, face, neck and hands! That would never happen at a hockey game! But Kim and I had fun, we can cross “Seeing David Beckham play soccer” off our bucket lists, and maybe through osmosis, I learned a little more about another sport.

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