A story straight out of Hollywood

Scene: Interior of Hollywood producer’s office. A loud beep comes from his desk.

Hollywood producer: Yes?

Secretary: The next struggling young screenwriter is here to see you, sir.

HP: Send him in.

The door opens, and a young man in slightly wrinkled suit clothes enters. His eyes are a little red, and he has noticeable bags under his eyes.

Struggling young writer: Hello, sir. Thank you for seeing me.

HP: Always happy to help a struggling young writer such as yourself. We’re always looking for the next blockbuster idea.

SYW: I think I might have a couple, sir. They’re sports movies.

HP: Hmmm. Not the first thing I want to hear, but I’ll give you a chance. Let’s hear the first one.

SYW: (a little nervously) All right. Here we go. Picture the most storied franchise in baseball, with one of the top players in the franchise’s long history replete with Hall of Famers….

HP: Wait, the hero plays for the superstar squad? That doesn’t make sense. Shouldn’t the story be about the underdogs, overcoming adversity and overwhelming odds to knock off the No. 1 team?

SYW: But that’s what makes this story different. The team might not be liked by everybody, but the hero is almost universally respected. And he’s closing in on a milestone of 3,000 hits, which no one else in the history of the franchise has ever reached —

HP: What? No one in the history of the franchise has ever gotten 3,000 hits? Is this a fantasy story? Sci-fi?

SYW: No, seriously. But the player is on the downside of his career. His skills are starting to diminish, he’s not hitting the way he always has. The manager is still hitting him leadoff out of respect, but people are saying he should be dropped in the lineup or replaced. Then he gets hurt just a few hits shy and has to go on the DL, building the suspense further.

HP: (flipping through the story SYW has brought) Suspense? Everyone knows he’s gonna get it. The injury’s minor, and it certainly doesn’t threaten his career. All it does is drag it out longer and make it more excruciating for everyone.

SYW: Let me finish. He comes off the DL, and his first few hits are mostly little nubbers, nothing to prove he’s still got much left in the tank. Then just two hits shy of 3,000, he leads off an afternoon game with a single and then, in his second at-bat, golfs a 3-2 pitch into the stands for a home run and his 3,000th hit. He finishes the game 5-for-5, the last hit being a game-winning single in the bottom of the eighth.

HP: (staring at SYW) … Uh-huh. … Look, kid, nobody’s gonna buy this crap. And sports movies often don’t do well across the board, especially internationally. So let’s just —

SYW: Wait! My second story is about soccer, the most popular sport in the world!

HP: Well, that would almost guarantee a bomb stateside, but could really help the worldwide numbers where we make most of our money anyway. OK, kid. One more chance. Let’s hear it.

SYW: OK. It’s the Women’s World Cup —

HP: WHAT?!? Stop right there. Women? C’mon, kid, there’s only one “Bend It Like Beckham.” And we’ve already been pitched the story about the 1999 U.S. women’s team winning the cup on home soil with the penalty kicks and the chick ripping her shirt off after scoring the winning goal. Can you beat that?

SYW: Maybe. It’s not the final, though. It’s just the quarterfinal.

HP: Now that’s just a blatant ripoff of the 1980 U.S. men’s hockey team.

SYW: No, this isn’t a rag-tag group of kids who aren’t expected to win. This team might be the best in the tournament.

HP: Another favorite??

SYW: Hear me out. The women lose their last pool play match in ugly fashion, forcing them to play their arch-rival in the quarterfinal just to reach the final four. A team they lost to in the last Cup, 4-0.

HP: Sounds like hockey again….

SYW: Anyway, the team grabs an early lead, but the officiating seems to be going against them and they can’t build on their 1-0 lead. Then the rivals are awarded a penalty kick for a takedown in the box, with the offender being sent off with a red card. Now it’s 10-on-11 the rest of the way.

The goalkeeper makes an amazing save on the penalty kick, but the refs make a controversial call to give the rivals another chance at the penalty kick which they make. Now it’s tied with our heroes down a player. They make it to overtime, but give up a goal at the beginning of overtime, and now it’s even harder for the heroes to come back.

HP: Go on, go on….

SYW: Somehow the heroes keep coming, even as everything seems to be going against them. The rivals are stalling, faking injuries, doing everything they can to run out the clock and turn the audience against them. But that only adds extra stoppage time at the end of the second overtime, and the heroes use those couple of extra minutes to score a miracle goal and force penalty kicks, which they win with another amazing save by their keeper.

HP: … Look, kid, I like you. But the only reason people bought a story like “Miracle” is because they’ve seen video of that game from 1980 ever since.

The soccer team is down a player, and they win? … Nah, something like that could never happen. Come back when you’ve got stories that are a little more believable.

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Is there a draft?

The good news for Major League Soccer: ESPN, the sports television empire that has made the NFL Draft a three-day extravaganza of media overload, is airing the MLS SuperDraft live on ESPN2 today as I type this.

The bad news: It’s airing live at noon on a Thursday, and is scheduled to last just an hour according to the cable TV guide.

But you’ve got to start somewhere.

It makes sense for ESPN to want to try and build more interest in the league with the broadcasting rights it’s paid good money for, but whether or not this will work remains to be seen. ESPN is the right place for it, since with everything they’ve done to pummel viewers with information during the interminably long NFL Draft they have the ability to simply scale it back and easily adapt it to MLS.

The draft is being held in Baltimore at the NSCAA Convention, probably not quite as ideal a place for fan interaction as Madison Square Garden has become for the NFL. Yet many fans still made the trip there, including a Philadelphia Union contingency that includes a certain SoB I know. (For those unfamiliar with the Union, their devoted fans are called the Sons of Ben, as in Franklin. I’m not insulting the gentleman in question … as far as he knows.)

The commentators obviously know what they’re talking about, but they seem uncomfortable being on camera so long talking live which they are not used to doing as part of a simple game broadcast. They know their stuff (I’m assuming, since I really don’t), but can they keep viewers who aren’t already devoted fans interested? I wonder.

The touch I do like is giving the players who come up to the podium after they’re selected a scarf of their new team instead of a jersey, giving people a taste of what makes soccer different than other sports.

As I type, the hour set for the show is up, yet there’s no sign of them leaving the coverage. So soccer is at least important enough to warrant extending the coverage, perhaps through the end of the first round which is not quite two-thirds done.

How much more of the three rounds will be broadcast? (Turns out it went off at 2 p.m., early in the second round.) And will it help the MLS broaden its fan base? Who knows? But every little bit helps.

Kicking things around….

I’ve decided that I don’t just have to wait for big, lengthy things to pop into, then out of, my head in order to post here. This way I can post more frequently and hopefully still keep things interesting.

I’ve had a lot of little things flow through my brain during the early pool play stage of the World Cup, which I’ve watched a lot more of than I thought I would before it began. Here are a few….

  • First of all, the referees. There have been some terrible calls so far in the tournament, one of the most recent being Kaka’s second yellow card that earned him a suspension from Brazil’s final pool play game against Portugal on Friday. It seems like many of the complaints recently (ask the Swiss about losing Valon Behrami in the 31st minute to a suspect red card) have surrounded foul calls and cards, but as far as I’m concerned the soccer world has brought this on itself. Many players go out of their way to draw cards with what can honestly best be described as histrionics of an appalling degree. As long as such ridiculous behavior isn’t more discouraged in some way, such calls will be made.
  • Speaking of bad calls, the fact that FIFA acted so quickly in saying that Mali official Koman Coulibaly would be investigated only to come out later and say they’re satisfied with the performance of their officials should make fans and others only more incensed about the United States’ lost game-winning goal by Maurice Edu — and the three points that went with it. The fact that officials don’t have to explain such game-changing calls, even after such controversy, is even worse. They could use a little more Jim Joyce culpability. I wonder if getting “coulbalied” will work its way into the lexicon because of this. If it does, it might actually be a good sign for soccer.
  • I didn’t realize until I saw the story that Monday morning’s Portugal-North Korea match was aired live in North Korea in a rare display of openness by the government. In the past, the fans there have mostly only gotten extremely edited highlights. And what do fans get for the ability to watch their beloved team play on the biggest stage in the world for the first time since 1966? They got to see Portugal score six second-half goals for the biggest blowout so far this tournament and knock out North Korea … just as it did back in 1966. The AP story noted that as the match ended, the broadcast was quickly ended with “The Portuguese won the game and now have four points. We are ending our live broadcast now.” Gee, you think this might have an adverse effect on future attempts at “openness”?
  • If the Washington Redskins players can see how stupid it is for Albert Haynesworth to whine about the defensive scheme the team uses and demand a trade just after getting a truckload of money, why can the French players not see how incredibly stupid it was to “strike” Sunday and not practice for a match that could still get them to the knockout stage of the Cup to protest a player being sent home after screaming obscenities at the coach? Is it worth one player to potentially ruin what was presumably four years of preparation? Apparently so. Even better is that supposedly team captain Patrice Evra initiated the walkout. If I were South Africa, I would be drooling over the chance to face such an obviously disorganized squad in front of my home fans, even if it’s unlikely a win would lead to advancement barring an epic blowout. I have a feeling the vuvuzelas will be especially loud this morning.
  • Can the U.S. ever win enough to win over American fans and make the sport more viable in this country? It’s hard to say. I thought with all the kids playing thanks to their “soccer moms” that it was inevitable, but it seems that a fair number of those kids don’t necessarily stay with the sport or even know what they’re doing enough to follow a game on TV or in person — or have the desire to. I think it’s mainly because the soccer team has never been competitive on a level with other such world events like the Olympics. Until they are consistently (and will they ever be?), my guess is it likely won’t happen.
  • I’m not a fan of the final pool play games being played simultaneously, though I can understand it prevents teams from seeing they’re already through and they can rest up for the Round of 16 with another team’s loss earlier in the day. At least the games are on neighboring channels (on my cable system, anyway).
  • I don’t think there’s anything I want to see more than New Zealand stun Paraguay Thursday. What the All Whites have done so far has been amazing to watch, and I just have to root for that kind of an underdog to get out of pool play.

Well, I’d better wrap this up, it being so late. This is set to automatically post in the morning, so that I can concentrate on getting up to watch more soccer. Wow, did I just type that? Crazy.