R.I.P. Soccer in America: Gone Before We Even Knew You
Such a beautiful beast, that soccer. Supple yet firm. Bountiful in thy glory – and in thy goals – yet far too fleeting in thine grandeur.
America’s brief love affair with soccer is over. People showed up from near and far, high and low, here and there to local drinking establishments and public parks to cheer on our marginally triumphant heroes. But as our chances of winning the World Cup disappeared with that 2-1 extra time loss to Belgium on Tuesday, so did our collective interest in the sport.
But he did this instead:
By all accounts he’s a nice guy (he apologized to basically the entire world after the game via Twitter) but godamn that miss – from a guy inserted for that exact type of play – stung. Yes, Michael Bradley did not play particularly well making it a clean sweep (of poor performances) for the tournament but he wasn’t awful, and yes, Dempsey did not play a stellar game and perhaps should have done better with a good chance or two that he had, but he worked hard enough to have at least some impact on a game in which we didn’t see much possession, which is saying something.
ESPN and every media outlet under the sun focused all the postgame attention on Howard’s performance, which amazing as it was really only served to underscore how poor most of the rest of the team had played. The fact is we definitely got outplayed and perhaps got outcoached (though if Wondo puts that chance away at the end of regulation things would look mighty different). Biggest and most obvious problem we faced: Belgium dominated the midfield. Improving there is mission 1(a) over the next four years.
So in conclusion: Soccer in America is now dead – for another four years anyway, during which time Americans can happily return to bashing its players as fairies, its fans as hipsters, its rules as Communist, its constitution as European (or Latin American), and go about their normal business of concentrating on real sports like baseball, basketball, hockey and AMERICAN – it’s right there in the name! – football.
Unfortunately for Ann Coulter and her mouth-breathing coterie, the narrative above is completely and utterly false.
Yay! So you mean soccer is here to stay???? We made it out of the Group of Death and battled so courageously against the odds and more talented Belgians so now Americans everywhere – and not just young kids and newly “patriated” Mexicans either! – have accepted soccer into our hearts and homes, and it’s only a matter of time until it sucks the air out of all other sports and becomes our national pastime?!??!
Nope! No offense to Darke, who to be fair is a fantastic commentator, but this is bullshit as well.
Want to know the truth(s) about soccer in America? Here are a few of them:
1. Soccer has not arrived because it never left. It has been here wallowing mostly in the background of the menagerie that is American sports culture for many decades. Recently, particularly since we hosted the World Cup in 1994 and the MLS slowly got off its feet, the sport has developed a strong and increasingly vocal base of supporters from which it has been and will continue to grow.
2. Tuesday’s loss to Belgium was a massive missed opportunity for soccer in this country.
No if’s, and’s or but’s about it. Playing against a traditional powerhouse and tournament favorite in Argentina and one of the most exciting players in the world in Lionel Messi on a Saturday right after Independence Day with a chance to make the semifinals of the World Cup for the first time since 1930… the idea itself sounds so tempting that I don’t even allow myself to think about it lest I pop a stiffy in my underoos.
3. However, a loss here or a win there, or even great World Cup showing here or a poor one there is not going to change much in the long run as the continued rise of soccer is thoroughly (and painfully, for some) inevitable. As a very, very brief response to a post from Pres a week or two ago asking how long it will take for us to win the World Cup, my answer is thus: (a) it is inevitable and will likely happen during my lifetime but (b) it will take longer than you think. Even if, hypothetically, you had hundreds of millions of (internet) dollars and wanted to spend it on recruiting all of America’s greatest athletes to give up their sport for two, three even five years during which time they would do nothing but eat, drinks and play soccer (and continue to sleep with an endless succession of insanely hot women, because why the hell else would you care to be a ridiculously talented athlete?) – the chances that that group could win a World Cup against a small gaggle of 5’6″ Spanish pipsqueaks or geeky German Thomas Müller’s are somewhere between 0.0% and 0.00%. Soccer players aren’t born necessarily, though having the right combination of fast and slow twitch muscle fibers to run really fast and keep it up for days certainly helps. Rather, they are developed over years and even decades of hard work learning all the various nuances of when and where a teammate will be making a run or how and when to lift a cheeky chip shot over the head of an overly aggressive goalkeeper.
Mark my words though: the United States will win a World Cup. We have the talent and we have the desire. All that’s lacking right now is patience because it definitely is not going be in 2014, and it probably won’t even be in 2018 (though not for lack of hoping and praying on my part, I assure you). We’re getting there though – little by little, yes – but like another Rob Ford crack-induced meltdown or shitty Bieber tattoo, it is coming.
“So if we may not even win it in 2018 then why the hell should I care about soccer at all??”
I’m not here to convince you to care about soccer. But based on a very unscientific straw poll (which basically involved sampling Big Cat’s interest in and comprehension of the sport itself over the past three weeks), it is clear that soccer has gained some pretty serious ground. Thus, for others of you who feel as though you too have been lured by the excitement of this World Cup into caring about soccer just a little bit more and/or following it just a little bit closer, I have some great news. Things are looking up.
For one thing, the USMNT is going to continue to get better and better. We’ve got young guys coming out of the woodwork, both homegrown here in the U.S. and via military and/or regular ex-pat inseminations, who will be competing for spots on the 2018 team with a returning crew of players who just got four priceless games’ worth of actual World Cup experience.
Players like Yedlin, Green, Fabian Johnson, John Brooks and Brad Guzan (who at 29 is youthful compared to Tim Howard’s 35) are guys from this team who are almost assured to be ready to go for us again in four years. Michael Bradley (26), Jozy Altidore (24), Aron Johansson (23) and Mix Diskerud (23) will likely be back as well, along with perhaps a few others. But there is also a youth movement afoot led by guys playing in Germany, Spain and even here at home, and also includes some you (likely) haven’t even heard of, like 17-year-old midfielder Gedion Zelalem of Arsenal, who turned down an invite to join the U-17 German national team and is in the process of gaining his U.S. citizenship.
“But 2018 is so far away. What am I going to do in the meantime?”
How the hell should I know? You can do as you please. However, if you feel the urge to watch some soccer it is becoming increasingly easy to do so round these parts. NBC recently took over coverage of the English Premier League and has been doing a fantastic job of covering it. Big Cat and Feitelberg are lifelong Liverpool fans and – though you’d have to ask them – I wouldn’t be surprised if they allowed you to jump on their bandwagon.
In fact, word on the street is that even if Bitey McBiterson (aka Luis Suarez) gets sold off to Barrrrrthelona this summer (which is looking increasingly likely)… no worries, they’ve got a contingency plan: dual fanship rooting for both Liverpool and Barrrrrthelona. Double the pleasure, double the fun!
Thankfully Spanish, German and Italian league games are also available on the regular, and the quality of play in the MLS keeps getting better and better every single year. If, for example, you have never been to a Sounders game in Seattle – which I’m assuming goes for most of you – it is quite an experience, and one to rival that of many if not most European league games..
The point of all this is that the American soccer is NOT dead, but nor has it fully “arrived” as a mainstream sport, which won’t truly happen until we do win a World Cup and Americans can embrace it as yet another thing that we are the best at (if even then).
The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle — which is precisely where Klinsmann and United States soccer needs to become vastly better over the next four years if we want to have any chance at proving me wrong about 2018.
After all, there is nobody in the world that wants to be wrong about that more than yours truly.
Your brother in arms,
PS: For those who thought you would finally be rid of me after the U.S. lost on Tuesday… sorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyyyyyyyy, I’m sticking around a bit. Who knows, might even stick around beyond the World Cup and fill your hungry minds with soccer coverage. Holler.