lie to me, season premiere (and new goodman power rankings)
i read the news today, oh boy

who is that out there?

50+ years of watching baseball have turned a lot of the game into shorthand for me. I know the Giants far more than I know any other team, since they’re the ones I watch most often. But if I see a close-up of a Giant, I usually recognize him. If I turn the game on and a Giant is at the plate, I can often tell who it is simply by the batting stance that he takes. And if the team is in the field, I know that when I look at the centerfielder, there are only a few guys who would be out there … I’m not working my way mentally through 25 players, but only Rowand (usually), Torres, Winn or Velez.

I’ve been watching soccer for a lot less than 50 years, so there’s little shorthand involved. I know the Earthquakes, for the same reason I know the Giants (more so if I attend a lot of matches in person, since soccer is particularly instructive when you can see the whole field). The difference with soccer is that I watch other teams besides my favorites. I watch the Giants more than I watch any other sports team, but I watch, say, Liverpool more than I watch the Atlanta Braves. And at times, I realize I’ve picked up more knowledge than I’d thought about soccer. For instance, I’m watching Liverpool play as I type this. It’s not in HD, so the screen is smaller and the picture is fuzzier, which is to say that I need to apply what I already know to help illuminate what I see … an HD telecast makes a big difference.

I often find myself wondering, who is that out there? It’s not as easy as wondering who the Giants CF is … positions are more fluid in soccer, and I don’t know Liverpool as well as I know the Giants. But more often than not, I DO know who that is out there, which is something people who were born into the sport take for granted, but which still surprises me.

So, for instance, Liverpool has two attacking players with blond hair who look similar, at least absent an HD picture.  One, Dutchman Dirk Kuyt, has wavy-bordering-on-curly hair; the other, Spaniard Fernando Torres, has straight, stringy hair, so it’s not like you couldn’t tell them apart if they were standing right in front of you. But on TV, it’s not so easy. Except … I know that Torres is more of an out-and-out forward while Kuyt is nominally a winger, so all else being equal, the blondie in the center is Torres and the one on the wing is Kuyt. I also know that Torres tends to place himself where goals are likely to begin, while Kuyt, who has a tremendous workrate, will by the end of the match have covered pretty much every inch of the field (not that Torres is lazy, but he plays a different role and style from Kuyt, who is so active anyway that he’d make a speeding meth addict look lazy). If the blondie is back amongst the defenders, trying to prevent a goal from the opponents, that’s going to be Kuyt as well … again, it’s not that Torres is lazy, he’ll move back if necessary, but that’s not his job, whereas Kuyt’s job sometimes seems to be “go wherever the ball is” … he’s like a 6-year-old in a junior game.

None of this is of particular importance, and for a seasoned soccer fan, it’s painfully simple, rather like watching a baseball game and being proud that I know the difference between Pablo Sandoval and Pedro Feliz. But I probably won’t live long enough to be able to call myself a seasoned soccer fan, which means I’ll always surprise myself when I recognize Dirk Kuyt.

Comments

Steven

Probably bad form to comment on my own post, but Liverpool just substituted Andriy Voronin for Dirk Kuyt, which the play-by-play guy announced by telling us it was "blond for blond." Since Voronin has a ponytail that shows up even on non-HD telecasts, he's easy to spot.

Sean

Any mention of Kuyt requires me to state how much I hate him and how terrible I think he is.

To elaborate: It is not a coincidence that "Dirk Kuyt" and "Pedro Feliz" are in the same post.

Steven

I always hope to see a comment from you when I post something about soccer ... you're my most knowledgeable soccer fan/blog reader. But, whoa! I'm stunned. I love Dirk Kuyt. No one works harder during a match. Granted, if that's all he did, he wouldn't be worth much, but he was a top-flight forward, and when he was moved to the wing, he became a top-flight winger. I can imagine someone thinking he wasn't one of the elite players, but terrible? I don't see that at all. My guess is the part where you hate him blinds you to his abilities ... something I understand, since I fall for that one myself all the time!

Sean

I've played with this in my head for a bit, and I think I have a good analogy for Dirk Kuyt, and hopefully one that will also make you re-think your liking for him. Its pretty simple, really:

David Eckstein.

Steven

I don't buy it. David Eckstein is a poor offensive player (only skill is getting on base, and even there he's under .350 for his career). Fans like him, and he's been in several post-seasons and a couple of World Series thanks to the teams he played on. He works hard, and got the WS MVP one year for bringing home the game-winner in Game 4. He's a marginal major-leaguer. Dirk Kuyt has scored more than 150 league goals in his career, has scored 13 more for his national team. He led his league in goals scored one season. He's scored a dozen goals in the Champions League. He crapped out in the 2006 World Cup ... other than that, it's hard to find anything negative to say about him. The only things he has in common with David Eckstein is that they both work hard and they are both popular with fans.

I'll give you one of Eckstein's Angel teammates that's a much better match for Kuyt: Troy Glaus. Very good hitter for a number of years (injuries hurt him, which hasn't been Kuyt's problem). Led the league in homers once, made the All-Star team four times, got a few MVP votes one year. Career OPS+ of 121 (Eckstein's at 88). That's a good match for Dirk Kuyt.

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