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Grammer on soccer: I once knew nil; now I bring something to the table

New Mexico United fans had many big moments like these during the team’s inuaugural 2019 season at Isotopes Park. United’s popularity has helped increase the base of people interested, and still learning, about the sport. See below. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Saturday’s New Mexico United match against El Paso will be broadcast locally on Estrella TV.

Despite being the Spanish-language sister station to Albuquerque-based KOAT-TV, the broadcast will be in English.

But for some of us, following the beautiful game in any language might require a little bit of help.

As I’ve learned in the past few months writing about New Mexico United – my first extended coverage of soccer in what has been a couple decades of journalism split between news and sports reporting – the learning curve can be a bit daunting depending on whom you encounter along the way.

Sure, soccer is beloved by millions worldwide. As it should be. But if you aren’t already in the club, so to speak, sometimes it feels as though there isn’t enough #SomosUnidos branding in the world to make us feel like we belong.

Much like the craft beer scene, extensive knowledge of the product doesn’t make everyone a snob, but it can be a turnoff for those on the outside when it’s forced down our necks.

I mean, sometimes, some of us just want that cheap domestic beer on tap during Happy Hour. We don’t always want to be told about International Bitter Units, noble hops or how it takes 1.21 gigawatts of fermentation pressure to strike the balance between cleansing your palate while still being able to absorb the aromatic texture of the barley.

Sometimes I just like drinking the beer.

And, sometimes, I just like watching the soccer.

In the past few months, I’ve learned things like standings in soccer are called tables, an inexplicably high number of shots (even the misses) are described as “brilliant” or “cheeky” by announcers, and a gaffer is the coach, whether he makes mistakes or not.

One particular match this season – a 1-0 United win at Colorado Springs – gave me several teachable moments in my soccer education.

First, in a video conference after the match, I noticed “nil” was said 17 times by United coach Troy Lesesne, players and the up-to-speed reporters on the call.

Then I pop up on the Zoom screen, sporting an Albuquerque Dukes baseball cap and rattling off questions about that great “one to zero” win, apparently oblivious to the reality that neither the word, nor the number “zero,” exist in soccer lexicon.

Lesson No. 486 came when posting a video highlight on Twitter of former Lobo and Eldorado High graduate Devon Sandoval’s bicycle kick that would have been a goal had he not been ruled offside.

I made the unforgivable mistake of writing Sandoval was called for “offsides” – acceptable in American football, not fútbol – and later referenced that being a “penalty” – something that apparently doesn’t exist in soccer despite there being a box called the “penalty area” where “penalty kicks” are taken.

“I’m fighting the urge to be pedantic and point out your misuse of ‘penalty’ in soccer,” the first Twitter response read.

“Not to be pedantic, but it’s a foul and not a penalty (which has to happen inside of the penalty box),” read the second.

After looking up “pedantic” and taking another drink of my boring beer, I began responding to the wave of tweets about my erroneous pluralization of “offsides”.

Among the more polite of the bunch was UNM women’s soccer coach Heather Dyche, who seems to get social media more than most.

I suggested to her that maybe I meant to put the “s” at the end of the word as two United players, in fact, had goals erased by the infraction.

“Can I claim that because it happened twice (cost Moreno and Dev each a goal) I was just trying to make it plural?” I asked.

“You can. And I can hunt deers,” Dyche replied.

Truth is, this crazy, COVID-shortened season covering United, has been enjoyable. I don’t dislike soccer – never have, actually. It’s been fun – aided to some extent, I’m sure, by what truly is unfolding to be a remarkable season for a United team playing “brilliant” soccer despite being the only team in the 35-team league not allowed to play in hits home state.

Some along the way have been more accepting than others about my soccer education as I’ve been quite open on social media about my ignorance of the game’s finer points.

Like anything, there are good ones in the game who will help you embrace the sport they love without making you feel like an outsider – people like Dyche, who closed our Aug. 15 Twitter exchange with this: “Happy to help on your journey in the beautiful game.”

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