For US Soccer, Either Elitism or
Germany 2006 is almost here! Zah verld better vatch out because zee
Americans are coming! (My German sucks.)
There is a
precarious climate about US soccer, a sizable range of attitudes, and
similar to American politics, we tend to hear only of the extremes.
those who obsess about US soccer – the people who dog the US for its
consistently mediocre-at-best position in “the world’s most popular
sport.” They tend to feign embarrassment, and most normal people can’t
also those who mock soccer as a sport simply because the US never seems
to play it very well. If we’re not the best at it then it must not be
very important. I can sympathize with these people a little bit because
I am also an American elitist.
My guess is
that most Americans fall more closely to the middle. Soccer is not our
pastime. We’re not very good at it so it’s a little embarrassing when we
consistently get beaten by countries we would obliterate if things
really got ugly. Then again, we do tend to wipe the floor with them in
the more exciting, high-scoring sports – basketball and football – so
things could be worse. (If our basketball team gets beaten again in the
next Olympics, then we can anticipate genuine national concern. We are,
all of us, uneasily considering 2004 a fluke.) However, it would be nice
to see the US scare up a few ripples like they did in 2002.
concerns about the upcoming games:
1. While the US team has received its highest world ranking ever – fifth
– Christ Albright responded by saying, “I don’t know if that’s exactly
accurate.” Ironically, Christ Albright is on the US team. Are you
kidding me? Who says that? Whatever happened to “It’s a testament to the
great improvement our team has made in recent years,” or even, “Soon,
the world will learn that we are actually not fifth, but first. We got
gypped last year by a Germany handball that would have given us a
penalty shot that would have projected us to the semifinals. We were the
best team then, and we still are.” Honesty is nice and all, but don’t
disagree with a high ranking. I’m incredibly grateful the reporter
didn’t ask Mr. Albright what the US ranking should have been. Who is
this guy? If American over-confidence doesn’t penetrate its sports teams
then it is no wonder our country has trouble lending its support.
2. The US
has drawn what some would consider the toughest group in the tournament.
This will ultimately reap either immeasurable excitement or a fully
anticipated, nationwide melancholy. So far, it seems to have caused most
American onlookers to expect no more than the already-scheduled three
games out of the US team. It’s the highest ranking we’ve ever gotten,
and no one thinks we’re going to join the half of the teams that
make it to the second round. Talk about depressing.
3. Some of
us have already discovered that Bruce Arena has a lisp. Suffice it to
say that this does not exactly lend itself to the tough-guy image to
which Americans tend to cling. There’s not a whole lot I can add to
this. He does have one of those hardened, slightly awkward assortment of
facial features (wide nose and receded hairline included) that I have
come to associate with hockey players, and he looks tough enough seated
on the bench. If ESPN can simply avoid Arena’s voice altogether, or at
least until the US makes the finals, this could turn into a non-issue.
Either way, it’s merely a concern.
these concerns, the more important issue is that television viewership
for the 2006 World Cup is going to be higher in the United States than
it has ever been. For a few games, American soccer players will be
displayed before the entire country. It will be a bit like the NCAA
tournament in the sense that everyone watching is just begging to be
impressed. The casual onlookers will finally become aware of those
dazzling talents the diehards have appreciated all along. Eddie Johnson,
Landon Donovan, I hope you show up. You’ll make a lot of your countrymen
incredibly happy, not to mention some hefty endorsements.
MLS is a
pretty good league. It’s not very popular, but it is moving in the right
direction (unless, of course, you would prefer it to remain obscure). An
impressive US performance in this year’s Cup – perhaps another trip to
the quarterfinals – would validate the 2002 performance, and
consequently, would significantly buffer the humble, yet considerable
cluster of soccer supporters the US already has.
mistake, this World Cup will bring about severe consequences for US
do not think a great performance will turn soccer into a powerful
American sport. It is just not our game. It is too slow and there is
probably not enough ego (which, I think, is the primary reason why
hockey has never really caught on). However, if the US team only manages
to beat Ghana, then Americans will resort back to considering US soccer
a joke. The group of people that fell somewhere towards the middle will
promptly carom towards the American elitists who, all along, chose not
said, there is cause for concern. The Cup’s not exactly in the bag. But
someone, somewhere, said there are only four teams better than ours.
Even if our own team doesn’t believe it, someone with an apparently
important opinion, disagrees. I, for one, hope that person is proven
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