The Best Kept Secret In Sports Across The USA

By Tim Jeffery

On Monday morning outside the work space near the water cooler, I can ask guys – how did you like Game 4 of the Rockets-Thunder series yesterday? Or mention the hot start the Orioles and Nationals have displayed the first three weeks of the baseball season. I’ll receive a good share of feedback.

But let me ask how the fellas enjoyed Lionel Messi’s wonder goal propelling Barcelona’s stunning 3-2 win over Real Madrid, and it’s mostly the sound of crickets. Why can’t I find anyone to discuss the very best sporting event I witnessed over the weekend, and for that matter since New England’s Super Bowl win over Atlanta?

Fair to say I was in the minority, knowing where to watch El Classico Sunday afternoon. Who among us even knows what beIN Sports is? That’s both a shame and the very reason so few watched across the country.

Why does a network such as Fox or ESPN show us Major League Soccer games like Orlando FC vs. New York City FC, but nationally no one delivers a feed of arguably two of the top six teams in the world squaring off in what never disappoints?

I get it; none of my friends and peers will plop down $35 a month for a subscription to fuboTV for a weekly soccer fix; or know where to find beIN on their cable or satellite provider. But, hey! I can also watch my hometown Detroit Tigers on the fubo app. Handy stuff when I’m in my office.

Actually, it’s the wonderful sport of soccer I crave. Unfortunately, it’s also the sport that will never truly catch on in the good ole USA.

Sure the MLS product gets a bit better each year. And FoxSports1 does give us good stuff each weekend from the Budesliga, Germany’s top league.

No question, NBC Sports Network has done wonders for the greatest league in the world, English Premier League, making it easily watchable for anyone in Texas or Boston who cares. Still, not showing the Spanish Giants battle on a national network is an indignity.

Not only is it end-to-end goal scoring chances; equally as delicious is the commentary from Ray Hudson. A 62-year old former English professional footballer, he is a combination of Dick Vitale, Jon Gruden and Don Cherry rolled into one.

His sentences — if diagrammed — would resemble etymological helixes, with thoughts on soccer twisted with strands of pop culture, literature, math and science. He cares little that some of those references are obscure, or even slightly incorrect.

What many might not know, is that Hudson creates all this in a closed ecosystem: the six-foot-by-eight-foot room where he and partner Phil Schoen called the El Classico game, holds a video monitor and the computers they consult during games and little else. The beIN control room in Miami is visible through a window; its staff members available through a door. But on Hudson’s side of the glass the TV screen frames the game. And that, he says, is all he needs.

He has called a thousand or more games this way, a practice that is unusual in the United States but common in international soccer. The animated commentator says the method helps him forge an intimate connection with viewers.

And luckily for the listeners, this allows Hudson and Schoen to often call back-to-back games on a Sunday involving Barcelona or Real Madrid, despite being played at venues some 385 miles apart.

After once watching Messi thread a pass through a nearly invisible opening a couple years back, Hudson posited that the Argentine could have found the Higgs Boson, “if they just asked him.” Assessing Gareth Bale’s work on the wing for Real Madrid, he announced, “He can usually get his angles down better than Archimedes, isosceles — any of those Greek lads.”

I would make the argument footballers as a group are the best professional athletes in the world. For starters, there aren’t any that look like David Ortiz, Vince Wilfork, or Glen Big Baby Davis. True, overweight players can perform at a high level in MLB, the NFL or the NBA, but could you imagine one of them trying to cover the roughly 6.9 miles a good premier league soccer player covers during his 90 minutes on the pitch?

Because soccer wasn’t offered in high school when I was as a kid (yes I’m that old), it’s hard for me to truly appreciate the skill and grace it takes to thread a cross into the box for someone like Everton’s great striker Romelu Lukaku, allowing him to get his head on the end of the pass. Lukaku is a 23-year-old Belgian leading the EPL with 24 goals this season. He is a ripped 6-foot-3 220 pound power-forward clone who gets anywhere he wants to and you can’t stop him. He is probably about to make $30 million per year on his next contract.

I get it, LeBron James, Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack or Angels outfielder Mike Trout often do things in their respective sports that are unimaginable. But they do them with their hands. If Messi or Lukaku use their hands at the wrong time, they could be told to leave the field immediately. It’s an opinion that might get me laughed at.

The age old argument has usually sided with: hitting a baseball moving at 97 mph is the hardest thing to accomplish in sports. While I’ve swung at and hit a few good fastballs as a youngster, dribbling a soccer ball, controlling it with my head to my chest, then ultimately blasting it into a goal 500 times seems beyond impossible.

Messi and Cristiano Renaldo are once in a generation players, the former being the greatest to ever play the game. According to Forbes, Messi’s 2016 salary was over $52 million, Renaldo was near that in 2015.

Yesterday’s goal was the 500th of Messi’s Barcelona career. Ronaldo also has 500 goals but Messi accomplished the feat at 29 years of age. Ronaldo did it at 31.

They are different in many ways. Ronaldo is like a sculptor with a hammer and a chisel, while Messi is like a painter with a canvass, brush, and a large quantities of colors.

Both are great artists in their own right, and there is no reason why you can’t admire both of their work. But I prefer a painter over a sculptor and a beautiful game with amazing skill and buildups to goals unlike anything else in the world of sports.

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