Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A soccer indulgence

Reflections on an afternoon spent watching Barcelona's thrilling 5-0 rout of Real Madrid

A soccer indulgence


I'm one of the first people you'll meet who will defend MLS against people in the United States who think it's worthless compared to the powerhouse leagues in the rest of the world.

I would almost always rather watch a game in person than on television, especially when I can go to a stadium with the kind of atmosphere PPL Park produces.

Still, it's hard to resist the lure of a really big European game when it's right nearby on the TV set. And there are few bigger games anywhere on the continent than the Spanish clásico between Barcelona and Real Madrid.

It is soccer's equivalent of Yankees-Red Sox, especially in the modern era. The teams in both rivalries spend millions of dollars to acquire their respective sports' top superstars, and the resulting clashes draw millions of television viewers around the world.

But the appeal of Barça and Real does not just come from the big names on their rosters. Both clubs insist on playing attractive soccer, with creative passers and strikers who score lots of goals.

So it was only natural that the soccer world came to a halt today to watch these two giants face off at Barcelona's famed Camp Nou stadium. The listed attendance in Europe's largest sporting arena was 98,255, and it's a fair bet that a few more fans snuck in other nooks and crannies to watch the action.

I watched the game at a bar in Center City. Even though it was the middle of the afternoon, there were still a decent number of people in the place. Some wore the white jersey of Real, others the red-and-blue stripes of Barcelona.

No matter where in the world fans watched from, everyone was treated to one of the great displays of soccer artistry in recent times. Even the Madrid fans had to admit that Barcelona's 5-0 rout showed why soccer is referred to as "the beautiful game" by so many people.

Barcelona's ability to pass the ball and keep possession is exquisite. In Xavi, Andres Iniesta and superstar Lionel Messi, the club has a midfield core that is simply dominant. Up front, David Villa is one of the world's best strikers, and he is made even better by the quality of service he receives from the aforementioned trio.

Obviously, not every team and not every player in the world can play that way. But you don't have to be an international superstar to at least give it a fair try.

If you watched the Colorado Rapids' run through the Major League Soccer playoffs, you saw that they play a style that emphasizes defense much more than it does attack. 

Contrast that not just with Barcelona, but with the Union. Peter Nowak's club often produced creative, attacking soccer, and that's one of the major reasons why Philadelphia won praise from observers across MLS in its inaugural season.

Of course Roger Torres is not as good as Lionel Messi, nor is Sebastien Le Toux as good as David Villa. But you can tell that they understand that philosophy of how to play soccer in a certain way.

The sport should entertain us, right? Yes, winning is important, but if every soccer game ended 1-0, it would be really boring. No matter what team you root for, it is always a good thing when soccer is creative and flowing instead of rough and defensive.

Barcelona definitely entertained us today. Whether as fans, players or journalists, we should appreciate the show that was put on today - and we should hope for more of it from teams around the world.

If you didn't get to watch the game, you can see highlights below. The fourth goal, scored by Villa and set up by Messi, was especially pretty.

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About this blog
The Goalkeeper is your home for the latest news about the Philadelphia Union, Major League Soccer, the National Women's Soccer League, the U.S. men's and women's national teams, and the rest of the world's most popular sport. It's also a place for fans to gather and celebrate the culture of soccer and its unique place on the sports landscape.

Jonathan Tannenwald
Lauren Green Inquirer Staff Writer
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