If you are even the slightest sports fan, patriot, or mildly curious observer of culture, you are aware of the foul called by Koman Coulibaly on Maurice Edu of the United States soccer team last Friday–most Americans had probably never heard of either of these two individuals until Coulibaly’s foul call cost the American soccer team the most dramatic comeback victory in World Cup history.
There were roughly somewhere between 5-10 fouls going on in that penalty box when Landon Donovan whipped a curved ball beautifully onto Edu’s foot which struck it simply but soundly into the back of the net. It was perhaps the most ironic play I have ever seen in my many years of soccer fandom because Edu and Donovan were the only players moving gracefully in that box–and the match report cites the foul being called on Edu–the one player in that box who wasn’t fouling anyone. What everyone else was doing was more akin to something you might see in a UFC match. Despite what has been said by many USA fans, there were several fouls being made in the box by both teams, admittedly the most heinous were being committed by Slovenian players, but there were fouls. It is sad really that the penalty box has become a wrestling match in the modern game which so many still refer to as “the beautiful game,” but nonetheless given where the greater fouls were coming from and the fact that such acts go on in most every penalty box on most every free kick in the modern game–it should have been allowed–the world football community seems agreed on that.
Nonetheless, Koman Coulibaly has indeed made a valuable contribution to US Soccer. As Paul Kennedy aptly pointed out, “He accomplished what no one else could in more than 100 years. He made Americans care passionately about soccer.” Kennedy’s quote was so well stated that it made the New York Times and was quoted by several ESPN World Cup analysts. Whether out of a spirit of national pride or simply natural disdain for being “cheated,” everyone–soccer fans and non-soccer fans alike were talking about Coulibaly’s blunder and the Yanks chances at advancing out of the group stage.
As a long time fan, player, and now a coach of the game, I am thrilled to see the World Cup getting the attention that it deserves in America. I love watching the Cup but I was never quite so on the edge of my seat as I was last Friday because no matter their fate, I will always cheer hardest when team USA plays. There is so much that can be learned from the game of soccer–last Friday’s game in particular lends us to a number of lessons if we are willing to hear them.
For one, USA never should have given up the two goals it did in the first half. The first goal could have been corrected simply by the center midfielder tracking his man and the center defender stepping to the ball. The fact that 2-0 deficits are rarely overcome in the game of soccer is testimony to the fact that soccer, like so much in our spiritual lives, is a game of continual discipline–knowing your assignments and sticking to them. One major mental lapse or failure to stick to your assignment and any team in the world can find itself behind and struggle to come back–correlations to the Christian’s fight against sin are myriad.
There are many things that team USA could have done to ensure going away with 3 points–Torres could have passed the ball to feet as everyone expected him to, Altidore could have gotten in position to take some shots on goal, Howard probably could have gotten down quicker on the second goal, Findley could have done something besides just running fast. We cannot live in the past, which is what made the come back so special. But nonetheless, Referees don’t lose games, team USA did not dominate that game, they only dominated 45 minutes of a 90 minute game and the first 45 were bad enough to force them into desperation mode.
I’ll admit to joining the hate party leveled against Coulibaly immediately after the draw, but as Christians we need to remind ourselves that men make mistakes–I doubt that Couibaly was living out a long planned vendetta against team USA–its fair to say that the call was wrong, but Christian charity is in order here–remember Couilbality is a human being with a family and a job.
Finally, as Christians, team USA’s draw to Slovenia should remind us that our hope cannot be in people–men will always let us down at one point or another–this side of eternity the better team doesn’t always win and the team that earned victory will not always get it. Until Christ returns or calls us home, not only sports but the world as a whole will continue to fail to satisfy us and often disappoint. That is why Hebrews speaks of a better hope that cannot be won through human achievement but is the gift of God (Hebrews 7:19) and Paul spoke of a hope that does not disappoint because through Christ, God has “poured out his love in our hearts” (Romans 5:5).
I may be stretching these lessons a little too far, but you can be sure I will be watching today as team USA takes on Algeria and hoping for a lesson that has something to do with winning graciously!