Soccer. It’s reverenced as ‘the beautiful game’ by the sport’s aficionados. Over the next two days the region’s top teams will converge at pitches throughout the state in hopes of claiming Eastern or Western, oops I mean Northern or Southern Maine championships. Those victors will reach the pinnacle of the sport this coming Saturday with state title matches being held in Portland and Presque Isle.
As with any sport, much effort has gone into reaching these milestone accomplishments. Many devoted players compete year round, whether it be indoor leagues in the winter, club teams in the spring, and with their own high school teams in the summer. Despite their efforts, many of this week’s regional final contests will be played in relative obscurity. Some match-ups will be played at one or two in the afternoon, on a weekday after all.
If you happen to be a school hosting one of these championship games on a field without lights, this is the stark reality. You see, not only did the return of standard time provide us with an extra hour of sleep, the annual turning back of the clock brought forth an unwelcome side effect: It gets dark early, really early. For the regional championship games, that means the sun will set at 4:20.
Play-off soccer needs a two and a half hour window in order to assure the game’s completion. Each half is forty minutes long, in which the clock only stops on goals, injuries, and yellow or red cards. Allow ten minutes for halftime. In play-off soccer there are two fifteen sudden victory periods, rather than the two five minute sessions during the regular season. Then if the game is still tied, the suspense packed round of penalty kicks follows to determine who advances. Hence, why a game on an unlighted field must begin no later than two o’clock.
We’ve been told for decades how big soccer is getting and how the game will continue to grow. The prophesies have come to fruition. Starting as young as kindergarten age, myriads of kids are taking to the field, dribbling, kicking, and doing whatever one does with a soccer ball. To further grow soccer, championship games for the sport should be played at times that are accessible to the public at large. Hence, all regional finals should be played at neutral sites with lights in order to draw a larger turnout.
A number of locations could be made available and then chosen based on who is playing in each regional final. A one or two o’clock start time simply isn’t feasible for people who work, or for students to get to the games, for that matter.
Football, by contrast is the most accessible of all sports for spectators. High school games are played either on Friday night or Saturday. The NFL plays the majority of their games on Sunday afternoon, primarily on major T.V. networks. Their play-offs are held during reasonable hours and its championship game is over by ten o’clock on Sunday night. No wonder football trumps all other sports in terms of popularity. Of course there are many other reasons why the gridiron wars are big with fans but this certainly plays a huge factor.
The athletes playing in these regional final contests have worked hard to get to this point. In the future, here’s hoping these soccer stars get the true showcase their efforts deserve.