“Winning isn’t everything, and it isn’t the only thing. It is one of many things.”
Joan Benoit Samuelson said that.
In a sense that’s ironic, not only because Ms. Samuelson won an Olympic gold medal, the Boston Marathon, and various other elite races, but because she has remained competitive several decades later.
But I’ve found myself thinking about what this accomplished and thoughtful athlete said this summer, as I’ve watched a couple of soccer games.
The first saw Spain’s national team humble the U.S. team in an exhibition preceding the Gold Cup tournament in June. I sat in the press box in Foxboro, Massachusetts for that one and listened to various U.S. writers second guess U.S. Coach Bob Bradley, who was fired this week.
The writers grumbled about Bradley’s starting line-up, his substitutions, his tactics. Maybe they hammered him for his haircut, too. If so, it happened after I’d moved to a different seat, from which I could appreciate in peace the game the Spanish team was playing. They showed anyone who wasn’t grumbling how patience and imagination combined with skill can produce art.
Afterward, Santiago Cazorla, who scored two of his team’s four goals, was asked if it had been easy.
He said it had not been, which is a credit to him, but it is also true. Learning and practicing a system is challenging, and the triumph of the hard work is making the result look natural, even easy.
Like the U.S. National Team against Spain, Major League Soccer’s All-Stars came up short when they faced Manchester United on Wednesday night. Way short.
But again, winning wasn’t the point, or at least it wasn’t the only point. It was one of many things. Both games were exhibitions. Both exhibitions were filled with exquisite moments of balance and creativity. Lots of MLS fans may have been dismayed when Man. U’s Park Ji-Sung danced just far enough past the two defenders who had him sandwiched to tuck the ball home. But if, shortly thereafter, they didn’t smile at the midfielder’s elegant moves, they shortchanged themselves. It was the sort of sequence bound to delight anyone who appreciates the possibilities of the game…which is one of those many things.
On Thursday, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced that Jurgen Klinsmann will succeed Bob Bradley as coach of the U.S. team. He’ll be in charge when the U.S. plays Mexico a week from Wednesday – the first game between the Concacaf rivals since Mexico eliminated the U.S. in the Gold Cup Final. Lots of fans will see that “friendly” as the beginning of Klinsman’s attempt to develop a team that can excel during qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, and that is one of the many things that game will be.