I had the best coach for soccer my sophomore year in high school, a gentleman named Mr. Fuller.   He was a Vietnam vet and a California state wrestling champion, to put it mildly let’s just say he was a no-nonsense type of guy.

 

One of his favorite epitaphs usually screamed at us usually above 90 decibels was that “an ugly goal counts the same as a pretty goal”.  We had a couple players that liked to seemingly dribble for hours before they took a shot or would like to set the ball up on a tee and take a Polaroid as it were.  All Mr. Fuller wanted to see was the ball in the back of the net, he didn’t care how it how got there.

Fast forward to the 2016 Euro Championships.  Immediately after Portugal won the championship, the ESPN commentator and former French World Cup Champion Frank Leboeuf commented that the final would be one that no one remembered (Other than the 11 million residents of Portugal) because in essence it lacked flair and scoring.  That could be true but if the score had been 5-4 and more “action-packed” as it were I’m sure some would call the game extremely sloppy and lacking defense.

We always here of athletes being encouraged to play to the best of their abilities and that if an athlete or a team does that then well done.  Portugal’s strength is their defense and their counter-attack, if that was my team’s greatest strength I’d play that game all day long.   Am I supposed to structure the way my team plays to suit someone else’s strength or make the game look prettier?  Unless I’m missing something I thought the point here was to win, barring knocking an opponent out of the game or scoring a handball goal.

If you look up who won the Stanley Cup three times in the 1990’s and 2000’s and see the name the New Jersey Devils you don’t see an asterisk next to their name saying well they played a heavily defensive minded trap system.  When people talk about the 85 Bears the first thing they mention is the defense, which is arguably one of the best pro football defenses ever.   No one criticizes them for bludgeoning other people with their defensive schemes or mindsets in fact they were praised and feared for it.

I’m not understanding why in the sport of soccer it seems to be frowned upon to play a defensive minded scheme.  I can guarantee you that if France had been up 1-0 or 2-0 they would have gone into a defensive shell to protect their lead and not blow it.   How many times do you see a golfer who has a lead going into the last hole not “attack”, they are more concerned about blowing it then adding to their lead.  How many teams attempt to run out the clock when they have the lead?

Portugal might be criticized for having “held on” through all of Euro 2016, but let’s give Portugal their due, they navigated their way through 24 of the best teams in Europe.   Even two years from now no one is going to remember how they won, the fact is they won and they won playing to the best of their abilities, isn’t that what it’s all about?

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