Ben Rozak

There are a lot of opinions on why soccer is not popular in the United States. Some people say it’s because there’s not enough physical contact, that maybe it would be better with helmets and pads. But this weekend’s Major League Soccer Central Coast Showcase at Cal Poly just may have changed those people’s minds.

Albeit exhibition matches, this weekend’s two games were more along the lines of regular-season rivalries.

The first game, between the San Jose Earthquakes and the Columbus Crew, displayed the physicality of the game, as players came up slow after slide tackles and jumping for headers.

A collision between San Jose goalkeeper Preston Burpo and Columbus forward Robbie Rogers led to a shoving match, and the aggressive play resulted in two yellow cards in the first half and another in the second.

Neither team was dominant, although San Jose prevailed 2-1.

The first goal came in the 17th minute when San Jose forward Kei Kamara took a pass from forward Gavin Clinton, split two defenders and booted the ball to the back of the net.

A mistake by San Jose defender Ryan Cochrane in the 34th minute gave the Crew its only score. Just outside the Earthquakes’ penalty box, Cochrane lost control of the ball to Crew midfielder Guillermo Schelotto, who connected with forward Alejandro Moreno. He then passed it to forward Eddie Gaven, who put a low, hard shot on goal.

Goalkeeper Dan Benton, who came in when Burpo left the field with a hand injury, was not able to fall on the ball; it went through his legs and into the goal.

The final goal of the match came in the 53rd minute and was the most spectacular.

Working against two defenders on the left wing, Kamara displayed some fancy footwork in getting himself open and taking a long shot that found the net.

Kamara said he wasn’t sure what his move was, explaining, “I think I leaned one way, put the ball on the other side and then shot it looking for the far post.”

Whatever it was, it caused one defender to fall and the Earthquakes to come out with a win against his former team.

Asked what he thought of the Central Coast soccer scene, Clinton said the crowd “inspired both teams to go at it a little hard. It got a little chippy at times, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

Following Saturday’s winds and rain, the field was a soggy mess for Sunday afternoon’s contest between San Jose and the D.C. United.

And if the first game was aggressive, the second started as a brawl. By the 15th minute, the referees had called 11 fouls and given out four yellow cards. Some of the fouls looked like the fault of the slippery turf as players’ slide tackles carried them farther than normally possible and into opponents’ legs.

A classic moment occurred when D.C.’s Marcelo Gallardo attempted to take a corner kick from the one that was flooded. Though he kicked hard and made a splash, the ball rolled out only a few feet in front of him.

Gallardo was perhaps the highest-profile player in the weekend’s action, having played in two World Cups for Argentina. He was signed to D.C. through the same salary exception that allowed the L.A. Galaxy to acquire David Beckham.

San Jose controlled the ball for a majority of the first half, stopping United’s attempts to hit the ball far beyond the Earthquakes’ high defensive line.

One such try was a Kamara header in the D.C. penalty box that missed its mark and caused him to collide with the goalkeeper.

Gallardo got a shot off just before the first-half whistle, but Benton was there to stop it.

In the second half, play was a lot more back-and-forth. United came out on the attack and had a couple runs at the goal that were stopped.

The closest the game came to having a winner was in added time, when a shot by San Jose forward Matt Taylor nearly hit the post and went in. United goalkeeper Jose Carvallo was able to get his hand on the ball before Earthquakes forward Jason Hernandez, who was running in to score the rebound, could get a foot on it.

The spectators seemed to enjoy both matches, although it was obvious the Central Coast was not used to the idea of pro soccer. When the game ball flew into the crowd at one point in the first game, a spectator held on to it as if it were a foul ball at a baseball game. It took a moment for it to sink in, but she eventually threw the ball back to the players.

Following the second game, Gallardo said the U.S. soccer scene has a lot of potential, but needs a lot more attention to be as popular as it is in Latin America.

And though not record-breaking, the attendances of 3,851 and 4,342 are cause enough to believe soccer is at least somewhat, and rightfully, popular on the Central Coast.

Brian McMullen is a journalism senior and a Mustang Daily reporter.

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