Fans of pro football, baseball, hockey, and basketball in this country have it easy.
It’s easy to remember that their teams aspire to play in the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Stanley Cup Final, or the N.B.A. Finals.
Fans of soccer can’t be so single-minded. The M.L.S. team for which they root aspires to make the playoffs and win the league championship, just as teams playing other games do. But that soccer team may also be participating in the U.S. Open Cup, a competition that involves not only other MLS teams, but neighborhood clubs sponsored by ethnic organizations located in towns rather than cities. And it may be playing in the SuperLiga, which pits a handful of M.L.S. and Mexican teams against each other. Recently M.L.S. teams have also been invited to compete in the Copa SudAmerica and this hemisphere’s Champions League, and then there is the series of games that determines the CONCACAF champion.
A lot of the games involved in these competitions take place during the regular M.L.S. season, meaning that fans are rooting for their teams to advance simultaneously in various brackets. In this respect, at least, pro soccer in this country resembles pro soccer where it matters most, in England and Europe. This brings me to the three competitions that I’ve been following with increasing enthusiasm since last summer, when F.C. Barcelona began again to play games that counted.
I’ve only seen Barcelona play once. But that was enough to hook me, because they were playing at home, in Camp Nou, and I was in the company of about one hundred thousand people who had seen them play many times…people who knew the stadium songs by heart and brought their families to games and had come to anticipate nothing short of beauty as a reward for each visit.
This season, Barca has established what appears to be a solid lead in La Liga, the top division of Spanish soccer. This has delighted fans of the team, since last season they suffered a dual disappointment: Barca fell out of competition relatively early, and Madrid finished on top of the table. To understand the implications of that circumstance, think about how lousy fans of the Boston Red Sox feel when their team finishes sixteen or eighteen games behind the Yankees, who win the division, the pennant, and the World Series. Many Boston fans don’t mind finishing second as long as the Yankees finish third. Or better, last. Now multiply that nexus of feelings by ten and you’ll have some sense of how Barca fans feel when Madrid prevails.
But this season Barca has done more than streak to the top of La Liga. On Wednesday evening, they beat Majorca in the first game of a two game set that will determine which team moves into the finals of the Copa Del Rey, which is Spain’s version of the U.S. Open Cup. Beyond that, Barca is very much alive in Champions League competition, in which they will next play on February 24th against Lyon.
Greed seems to be out of fashion, which is a development to be celebrated no little and quite some, but as far as I’m concerned there is no vice in hoping that my team will achieve the triple, meaning that Barcelona would finish on top of La Liga, cop the Spanish Cup, and capture the championship of the Champions League as well.
So am I rooting for the Bruins to bring the Stanley Cup back to Boston for the first time in almost forty years? Sure I am. And do I want the Celtics to demonstrate that last season’s championship was no fluke? Absolutely. But you’ll perhaps forgive me if I allow my attention to wander to three competitions underway in various venues in Spain and Europe over the next few months. I am a Barca fan, and they are poised to take a run at the sort of achievement that the fans of most teams never get to imagine.