Filip Bondy’s new book on the USMNT will get better with age
I almost put it down after the forward. In his 300-page book Chasing The Game (out now from De Capa Press), which interlaces player profiles and men’s national team history with expanded game reports from the recently completed World Cup Qualifying cycle, Filip Bondy makes one thing abundantly clear: this book is not for soccer fans.
Instead of the behind-the-scenes narratives or in-the-field reporting that the best non-fiction books bring to sate all potential audiences, Bondy delivers patchwork profiles for only the most popular (and obvious) players and game reports painted over with bits of colorful scene-setting. There’s no sense of narrative or narrator, and for a fan of the game and team (the person you would think this book is written for) there is very little new information, very few new quotes or insights, and absolutely no surprises.
It does do what newspapers do best: write down history in a simple and straightforward way. Bondy has a wonderful USA Today or Sports Illustrated pull-out section to prepare the mainstream American sports audience for the World Cup, but at 300 pages, he has a boring book. At least for a few years.
If you don’t know how qualifying works, don’t follow the team, and haven’t read one of the dozens of stories about Tim Howard and his Tourette syndrome or Clint Dempsey and his East Texas trailer park upbringing, than Bondy brings a perfect primer heading into South Africa. Read it, and you’ll have a handle on the team, its history, its players, and be ready to root for the Stars and Stripes starting June 12th. But for soccer fans, it’s little more than a history book summarizing past events, which just barely qualify as such. Like a new batch of wine, you can drink it now and still get drunk, but cellar it for a few years and it will go down a lot easier.
In the forward, Bondy writes: “It is true: Spectators require considerable patience to love the sport.” He lost me. Before page 1. In the Roman numeral-ed pages. It’s opinion, but he’s wrong, and nearly every soccer fan should recoil in argument. If the author believes that statement, I don’t want him writing this book. And it continues throughout. Bondy is no soccer analyst, and thankfully doesn’t try to be, but every few pages an adjective goes awry. Jozy Altidore a mature finisher at 17? Really? Clint Dempsey’s assimilation into Fulham and the Premiership was remarkably smooth?
Bondy describes the USMNT as lacking consistent passion and ability, and the same could be said for the book. Where he gets it most right is when he tackles subjects few if any have reported on. The chapters on Sunil Gulati and Bob Bradley rise above the rest simply because so little is known about those two men in comparison to the players. Gulati’s rise to power and prickly nature are sufficiently explained, and the development of Bradley’s soccer passion through his own playing career is placed in proper context… “chasing the game.” But there is no deep discussion of the decisions the two most powerful men in U.S. Soccer have made thus far in their tenures. Bondy gets history right, but avoids the reasons that could help understand why. The source material is thin.
Which quotes are original and which are taken from previous articles (there is a 2-page bibliography) is unclear, and that falls to Bondy’s lack of narrative and the decision to report the facts straightforward as opposed to taking any literary path. Instead, generalizations breaking the golden show-me-don’t-tell-me journalism rule fill the void: “For what it was worth, this disparate group of athletes genuinely
appeared to enjoy each other’s company during these brief stints.”
Why does the author feel that way? What did he see that tells him that? Show me! There’s a chapter, more solid than any presently included, in that washed statement that delves into the curious relationships and fly-by-night circumstances of national team life.
One has to wonder how much access was granted and how much time Bondy spent reporting and writing. Or if all that time was simply spent at games—the notorious death knell for a reporter looking for juicy material.
Soccer fans will perchance have some of their opinions changed thanks to Bondy, who through his painstaking march through qualifying games forces readers to gain a respect for not just this version of the national team, but the entire program which has gone from complete joke to competitive in less than one human lifetime. Bondy has the historical context that readers must acknowledge and hits nearly every point on the map of American soccer. But he touches it and races off to the next.
The puzzle pieces are here in some order to form a solid picture of this team. But sadly, like one of his first descriptions of the sport, USMNT fans will need patience to enjoy this book. About 10 years of it. Less, of course, if we win this thing down in South Africa.
banner photo by Graeme Mitchell.