Another day, another noble cause I take on for you, dearest jags, to keep the alignment of the sports world balanced and steady. As I’m sure you know, I would normally dedicate the greater share of my efforts to unabated tirades inspired by the Pirates’ continued treading of divisional water – those lessons down at the Schenley pool as a kid really paid off – and the Steelers’ putrid defensive showing against the Falcons.
That said, I sometimes like to diverge from the tired narratives that you find everywhere else and do something completely different. As I’ve remarked in the past, perhaps the only enduring pleasure of running your own blog is autonomy, so I will ultimately write about whatever the hell I want.
My authoritative advances aside, I ask you to take a moment with me to talk about soccer: first, because it’s better than talking about “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” but also because I think I can convince you to join me in becoming a fan of Borussia Dortmund of the Bundesliga (the German league), a team that embraces a style that Pittsburghers would be proud of – you know, if they gave a shit about a domestic German soccer club.
This cynicism, though valid, is receding somewhat, as the sport continues to grow locally and in the United States as a whole. The MLS, for instance, has taken careful, calculated steps in improving its product and expanding its audience, declining to act on any rash moves to make more money that would risk a total collapse of league infrastructure. Moreover, the success of NBC Sports Network has helped furnish the professional game a reliable national television platform, broadcasting several (if not more) English Premier League games weekly.
Pittsburgh does have its Riverhounds – I won’t insult you by hazarding the descriptor ‘beloved’ – but the USL remains a secondary league and, simply put, the talent isn’t there, all of which is OK, but not entirely suitable to qualify as your “favorite team” at the professional level. So the question emerges: what team should you follow?
Mark Madden insists upon Liverpool. I don’t know why, and I usually don’t listen long enough to find out, but I do appreciate his discussing soccer at his leisure despite what the listening audience may think. Frankly, and forgivably, his affinity for Liverpool likely stems from the circumstances that most soccer fans faced before the game became more accessible: you could only pick from the teams you know; the teams you know were the good ones; Liverpool happened to be good when he was getting into soccer.
The reality is that English soccer is not the only top-flight league worth your time and, arguably, it’s not even the best. To consider: an English team last appeared in a Champions League final and won in the 2011-2012 season with Chelsea squeaking out victories to secure the title. Since Manchester United’s dominant run under Sir Alex Ferguson, though, English teams haven’t shown any sincere odds at reclaiming, let alone retaining, the world’s top spot, while Spain has taken complete control: Barcelona, Real Madrid, or Atletico Madrid have featured in six of the eight slots in the last four finals.
La Liga (the Spanish league) suffers from an abysmal lack of competitive balance, however, being a league of only three serious competitors, and Atletico would likely be unable to keep up, were it not for the tireless, rage-fueled work of manager Diego Simeone (hey, I have to rep anybody who uses fury to achieve their goals).
So where else can you turn? Well, I will finally – sorry – hit for the cycle here and get back to the Bundesliga and the team I am going to encourage you to support, Borussia Dortmund.
First, though, let’s take a brief look at the German league. Bayern München are its Lakers, Yankees / Dodgers, Cowboys (without the domestic abuse, drugs, and drunk driving tragedies), earning the most money, winning the most titles, and employing the best players. Looking past them, the league stands out in that the next several spots and mid-table teams often swap positions, making the domestic season meaningful for more than just a select pool of clubs. A short review of the final standings over the last few seasons verifies this suggestion:
Of note: over these seasons, six teams have made up the top three positions, and 11 teams have populated the top five, indicative of parity most leagues can’t count among their merits – and it didn’t even require some bullshit overtime loss point to do it!
OK, so maybe you’re on board now for watching some Bundesliga soccer, but the more vital task is at hand. Let me explain then why you should be following Borussia Dortmund with the same fervor you display on holy Sundays when any person in a striped shirt has countless miseries wished upon him or her – quite loudly and graphically, in fact – and there is holding on every single play – unless, of course, the player is wearing the right colors. That’s just good football.
“Yinz see dem kellerz?”
The most obvious connection between the Dortmund team and our sacred Pittsburgh teams is the aesthetic. Both teams brandish the black and gold with the only nuance being that the Germans correctly identify their own ‘gold’ as yellow, while we prefer our gold to look like a piece of cheddar someone has stuck between their teeth.
This adopted colorblindness notwithstanding, you can root for Dortmund, if nothing else, because you have to do little to nothing with your wardrobe and various fan paraphernalia to adapt it to soccer. Terrible towel? Wave that son of a bitch. 143 free Penguins playoff t-shirts? Hell, wear a different one for each game until you find the lucky one(s). That Steelers taco salad you make? The leftovers will fit just fine for the soccer game, too.
Let’s be honest: nobody wants to a back a shitty team – not even the shitty players on that shitty team.
Listen, don’t play this game. We all know, especially when we get involved in a new sport, we want to watch somebody with some skill, some excitement, some real potential for celebration. Nobody – scratch that; maybe hipsters – scrolls down to the bottom of the standings, landing on the underdog in hopes that an incredible miracle unfolds in a twist fit for a dreadful Disney athletics film. Yeah, it was great that Leicester City captured the Premier League title two season ago, and I wanted them to win it, too, but not a single damn soul getting into soccer that year decided before the season started, “Hey, this team seems like the one I want to support.”
Accordingly, I’m not going to direct to a woeful sack of shit that just crowds the defensive third and pounds the ball down the field in prayer that somebody is actually paying enough attention to possess it for three seconds. No, Dortmund is good, consistently so, but without needing to mortgage their team’s identity or take on the role of the league villain who buys any player who may be good enough to beat them.
In fact, that is in part what makes Dortmund a great club to get behind: they can exhibit the possession-based, skill-laden, combination-heavy style of soccer that often earns the sport its title of “the beautiful game,” but also turn to a lightning-fast, “oh shit, here we go” counterattacking approach when it’s needed (*cough* Bayern *cough*).
The team’s results over the past several seasons emphasize their ability: 3rd place last year, 2nd place the year prior and a DFB-Pokal win, along with 1st place finishes, Pokal wins, and regular runs into the knockout rounds of the Champions League within the last decade.
They have an American on their team – a damned good one, too.
Am I exploiting an overwhelming swell of nationalism to gain favor with you? Uh, hell yeah I am. But how could I not? Christian Pulisic, who spent part of his childhood in Hershey, PA, is an absolute fucking animal, and he will be – bar none – the best American player of this generation and, quite possibly, all time, assuming good health and such. He will be what Landon Donovan was supposed to be. The kid can dart all around the field, has impeccable ball control in tight spaces, and can play his best when the pressure on. Aren’t those the kind of things – even in a proverbial sort of way – that we as Americans and Pittsburghers all hold dear? So not only can you wear your black and gold, but now you can bust out the red, white, and blue, too, chanting “USA! USA! USA!” even while watching a German soccer game.
The Bundesliga is legitimately entertaining.
Everybody is familiar with the Premier League’s international profile; players from all over the world flock to the riches and bright lights of English soccer. Still, the German league competes on this level as well, not just because it has almost the entire roster the 2014 World Cup-winning German squad among its ranks, but it also features / has featured a collection of other high-end talent.
Beyond Bayern, who have Arturo Vidal (Chile), Thiago Alcantara (Spain), Renato Sanches (Portugal), Arjen Robben (Netherlands), and countless more, there are a number of high-performing internationals, even on Dortmund’s roster: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Marc Bartra (Spain), Shinji Kagawa (Japan), Ousmane Dembélé (France), Nuri Şahin (Turkey).
Germany remains a location for quality soccer, especially for those who are still excellent players, but can’t make it onto the league giants around the world, or simply don’t care to deal with them, and having them distributed among the different clubs means, again, that the play reaches a higher threshold.
The fans are crazy, usually in a good way.
In short, German soccer fans, Dortmund’s especially, are intense, and if anybody should appreciate such dedication and slightly frightening commitment to the team, then it’s Pittsburgh fans.
Pierogi for your thoughts?
Fuck pennies; pierogis are far superior. At any rate, I hope I’ve been able to show you just why, if you should get on a soccer kick, you ought to start waving towels, screaming at the TV, and drinking beer on Saturday mornings (most common game day / time) for the black and gold (/yellow) of the German league, Borussia Dortmund.