Soccer sends kids like Brianna Caceres to college, so it can't be all bad

Being a self-respecting American sports fan, I pretty much have nothing but sneering derision for soccer, especially the international variety, where the only scoring that is done is accomplished with a piece of masonry thrown at the referee's head by some peasant in the stands. (I wondered why, when I accidentally turned on a World Cup soccer game--presumably the most important game in the world--there was only one ref. Now I know that they started with three, but the fans--many of whom should be in prison--took out the other two with well-aimed bricks.)

I've lost count: This is either the fifth or sixth decade in which it has been proclaimed that soccer is the next big thing in America. It obviously isn't going to happen, but that doesn't mean that we can't be gracious about it. There are a couple of good things about soccer.

For example, I think it would be cool if they put together a highlight package of all of the soccer goals scored in one year and showed it on ESPN on Christmas Eve, so there would be something to watch besides the A Christmas Story marathon and a German Pope celebrating Mass. I'm not sure exactly how many goals are scored in the world in a year, but, with commercials, it should be able to fill up a half-hour.

More importantly, soccer is a great entry-level sport for kids. It gets them to run around, work up a sweat and get a little tired. You have to admit that it's awfully cute to drive by a park or a schoolyard on a Saturday morning and see 10 or 15 little kids assembled in a circle around a soccer ball, all kicking away at it with no rhyme or reason, like some satin-clad munchkins jumping a new homie into their gang.

Plus, it gives you something to argue about with people who think they're more sophisticated than you. They talk about how things are on the Continent, and then you end up sounding like Sean Hannity when you say, "Why should I care about what the French think?!"

The argument I always put forward: Put the Phoenix Suns against the Brazilian national team in a game of soccer. Of course, Brazil would win, but what would the score be? 4-0? 5-0? If they put Raja Bell or Amare Stoudemire in the goal, it would be interesting. (The Suns could even pull the upset. All they'd have to do is hire transvestite hookers to stand on the sidelines and distract the Brazilian players.)

Then put the same two teams on a basketball court, and how many points would the Suns score? 180? 200? And the Brazilians might not make one basket, seeing as they don't know how to use their hands. (Except with the transvestites.)

Another good thing about soccer is that it helps some kids go to college, and that's always a really good thing.

Soccer is going to allow Brianna Caceres to get a degree in retail and marketing from the UA. A friend of mine from the old neighborhood told me that Brianna was coming to the UA, and that I should look her up. Of course, that was three years ago, when she was a freshman, but I've been busy.

Apparently, so has she, as she has been a starter since arriving on campus three years ago. That team went to the NCAAs, but the past two seasons have been disappointing. This year should be different, she believes. "I really think we have the players and the attitude to get back to the tournament," she says through an ever-present beaming smile. (Her smile--bright, wide and natural--is most disconcerting. I kept wanting to tell her some disturbing joke--you know, something with a punch line like, "Fred and the kids are dead"--but I didn't want to send her running from the room.)

Brianna enjoys playing in the ultra-competitive Pac-10, but there are a couple of places she won't miss. "Washington is the worst--cold and rainy all the time. You play soccer in those conditions, (and) anything can happen." (The Cats finish their regular season at Washington.)

She plays defense, which probably explains why her player bio says that last year, she "attempted a career-high five shots." The aforementioned kids at the park attempt that many in a half--at their own goal!

As they head into their Pac-10 opener tomorrow night, Oct. 10, at Arizona State, the Cats are playing well. They started off 6-2 against tough competition and should have a decent shot at finishing high in the conference.

Coach Dan Tobias has a unique approach with his team: Practice every day begins at 6:45 a.m. I've known a few football coaches who have occasionally used that time as a motivational tool/punishment, but every day?

"Coach wants us to focus on soccer at practice," she explains. "He doesn't want us bummed out about the test we just took or distracted by other stuff. He wants us to have a good practice and then be energized for the academics and the rest of the day."

I had to ask: What about the funk?

Her smile got even bigger. "Change of clothes, lots of body spray."

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