In the recent excitement (very recent, and regarding this morning, disappointment) surrounding team USA soccer, we are once again asked the broken record question of whether or not the world’s most popular sport will ever become relevant and/or popular (which really means profitable) in the world’s most powerful company errr I mean country.
Blogger’s (am I an editor of a blog or a blogger?) note: I literally wrote company instead of country. Only in going back and proofreading did I catch it and add that second part. Funny little Freudian slip there, methinks.
In response to that question I have a two part answer: “Not really” and “really?” Neither answer, nor the real level of interest, inspires a lot of confidence in the MLS and FIFA regarding the United States and its commitment to professional soccer. Simply put: we don’t (consistently) care and never will. I say consistently because it is true that at times, such as the past week or so, the country does tune into international competition to see the US’s slim hopes of actually winning something. Credit Landon Donovan and the crew for getting this far…but man that was a rude awakening courtesy of Brazil. After striking to a 2-0 (that’s two-NILL for all you Americans out there) lead against the first-named futbol freaks out of South America we all thought it too good to be true. Here was the United States dominating on a world stage in the largest tuneup before the World Cup. Then reality kicked in and Brazil showed us who is still boss.
But allow me to go somewhat deeper into the American obsession with sports. Let’s look at the sports this country consumes at astronomical rates: Football and basketball at amatuer and pro levels, baseball at for the most part a pro level, hockey at a niche level and auto racing at a regional level. Football, basketball and baseball have simple explanations as to their popularity. They are all American sports (I refuse to acccept that basketball is Canadian), invented, grown and nutured right here domestically. Auto racing, specifically NASCAR, comes from southern street racing, or so I’m told. Soccer is centuries old and from a far off land, distanced from all the goings-on in the US.
This cannot fully explain our disinterest in soccer. Golf was not invented in this country, yet it is widely played and celebrates its finest tour of play in America. Perhaps it is a question of winning. As Ray Ratto pointed out, Americans do have quite the interest in Premeir League Soccer which is…funny, it’s the best soccer played in the entire world. It doesn’t seem like a wholly American thing to want to watch the best and only the best. As my co-blogger said, MLS is akin to the Australian Basketball League, somebody may watch it, but not nearly enough for people to care. Simply put, if nobody watched a sport, it wouldn’t exist. But to be placed on the level of NFL, NBA and MLB, the MLS would have to be as good, if not better than the Premeir League, which will probably coincide with hell freezing over someday (which coincidentally appears to be the same time I finally get a job…f*** the economy!).
Were the US to win the World Cup next year, it would probably be the single greatest sporting achievement in American history, or at least since the Miracle on Ice. That being said, it still wouldn’t ignite the NCAA to make soccer and elite collegiate sport, or for MLS to suddenly be featuring players like Flopiano Ronaldo or Henry. Our disconnect to soccer stems from an attitudinal difference between Americans and the rest of the world. A major reason American sports fans are so passionate is the possibility and anticipation of the so-called “walk off” win. Everyone dreams of witnessing, or fantasizes about playing in, that bottom of the 9th situation where the bases are loaded and it’s all on the line. We practice the final shot of the basketball game with time expiring, or the final, Hail Mary pass. Soccer does not appear to have walk offs.
I watched today as Brazil scored in the 80 something minute, only to celebrate for a good 90 seconds. It was two minutes before the US even began play again. Suddenly, it was stoppage time and all Brazil had to do was casually walk to inbound the ball, wasting another minute. Essentially it was clear nearly 10 minutes before the match was over that the match was over. In American sports, there is always a chance for a last second comeback, against all odds. Perhaps this is a sign of Americans’ intentions or expectations in a sporting event, or even life. We want to know that no matter the journey, no matter the path to get here, we still have a shot to “win”. The soccer-loving world seems more concerned with the journey and not the ending. Of course, the score still matters, but the entire body of work appears to be more important than the 9th inning or the 2 minute drill.
It’s the reason Hedo Turkolou can stink it up for three quarters then be hailed as clutch in the 4th, or the reason Tim Howard is still a fantastic keeper, despite the lapses down the stretch.
Here the ends justify the means, everywhere else you better tread a good path.