Aug 16, 2006

Barcelona vs. Red Bulls

My wife, myself, and two friends of ours joined about 79,000 others to watch this exhibition game. It featured probably the best soccer club in the world, FC Barcelona, who apparently are like the Yankees of soccer. They feature Ronaldinho - the best player in the world, whose real name is Ronaldo Assis de Medeira. More than half the fans it seemed wore Barcelona or Brazil jerseys. They also have Lionel Messi from Argentina, and Samuel Eto'o from Cameroon.

The parking situation is FUBAR. It took about an hour from when we arrived in our car until we actually entered the stadium. We sat 5 rows from the very last row of the stadium. The minimum ticket package was 4, at $35 each, so we got our friends to come. It was about 70-30 in favor of Barcelona. The security wouldn't let us bring in soda, so I told him that Yankee Stadium lets us bring in anything. He said 'Well, the Yankees suck.' I told him they're in first place, how bad can they be.

It was really an electric atmosphere. People were waiting breathlessly to see Ronaldinho. He was, for the most part, the best player on the field. For the first 10 minutes, every time he touched the ball the crowd went nuts. Barcelona got a penalty kick about 5 mins. in, and Ronaldinho blasted it past Tony Meola (who single-handedly kept the Bulls in the game). Ronaldinho made some cool, trick passes, kicking the ball backwards with his heel, & showed off some other instinctual cleverness. There was nothing that amazing about his dribbling skills that set him apart from the other players, but the most exceptional part of his game was the accuracy of his passes. He made at least 3 long passes during the game that were truly perfect: placed only where his teammate could reach it, but out of the reach of the defenders.

The Bulls played well the first half, and on some sloppy D by Barcelona, put in a goal. Barcelona had many good scoring chances, but only converted on the PK. The Bulls keeper, Tony Meola, was brilliant. Besides nearly blocking Ronaldinho's PK, he made several other spectacular saves. One was a ball hit low on the ground, he barely touched it, but it was enough to deflect it out-of-bounds. Another time, the Barca player came down the side near the goal and would have made a nice centering pass, but Meola dove outwards punching the pass way out of the box. So it was tied at 1.

Barca put in all their backups (save for Ronaldinho), and the Bulls put in 3. The key was that the backup goalie was put in. Not that Meola would have down so much better, with Barca's offensive show in the 2nd half, but it would've kept it closer.

Anyway, Ronaldinho scored a sliding goal on a centering pass from Messi. There were many chants of 'Messi!' in the 2nd half. So Barcelona won 4-1. Ronaldinho was taken out in the 75th minute to a resounding ovation.

Going to a soccer match is far better than watching on TV. The atmosphere was great. We had a lot of fun, and the sellout shows that if MLS had the talent of European leagues, they would draw good crowds also. Soccer has a chance to be popular here.

Sunday August 13, 2006 - 10:17pm (EDT)

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