Soccer Isn't Going Anywhere or Why It's Too Bad Every American Couldn't Experience Today's Triumph
The soccer landscape has changed in the United States. Those of us who have been life-long fans have noticed this change. For better or worse, some people will continue to trash talk about the world's most popular sport and it's sad that these people fail to appreciate exactly how big this moment was for the United States in the world's most popular sports tournament.
But today, the rest of us, novice and hardcore fans and everyone in between, witnessed the biggest moment in recent US sports history. Donovan's goal is arguably the best single moment (as opposed to best result) in US soccer history. Ever. Period. And you know what? I, and millions of other American fans here and abroad had the luck and privilege to witness it. Today I saw a goal I will remember for the rest of my life. This is a moment I wish I could share with everyone. I shared it with many of you, but for some reason there are still Americans that actively dislike a sport that matters so much to many of us and certainly to the rest of the world.
Soccer haters can parrot the same reactionary anti-soccer garbage I've heard since 1990. That's ok, it's your right, but it won't stop the game from continuing to grow in the US. 2002 was a wake up call. In the middle of the night, a 3-2 win against Portugal, one of the best teams in the world, got people more interested as it was the first major win for the US in the modern era. In 2006, the country was poised to get behind the team, but instead watched three horrible games that ended our World Cup.
Finally, last summer, a year out from the 2010 World Cup, the excitement was building. When an improbable 3-0 win over Egypt sent the US into the Confederations Cup Semifinal against Spain, a team that was unbeaten in 35 games and was arguably the best team in the world at the time, people started paying attention. We won the game 2-0 and showed everyone back home that we were contenders. We could play with the best of them. People took notice. In the US's first game of this World Cup, the TV audiences for the England v. US game rivaled the NBA finals. ESPN finally woke up and has covered the World Cup as it's meant to be covered (aside from Lalas and Harkes being idiots). Every game is broadcast, dissected, analyzed by (mostly) first rate commentators, former players and current coaches.
I understand that some Americans don't understand soccer. That's ok. But, the failure to give it a chance, to try and understand why so many people around the world and in the US love it, is really unfortunate. There is just not the same kind of passion in US pro sport fans as there is in soccer fans the world over. I'm not sure why this is, but it certainly isn't because it's a dull sport or not "legit."
As for the canard that only children play soccer in the US- the state of our team today speaks to the reality of youth soccer in the US. You don't produce players like Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, etc. without a strong base of soccer players up through high school and college.
I hope some of you who may not have been interested in the past have started taking note. Watch some games with a friend who knows what's going on, read up a little on the sport and give yourself some time to adjust to the way it's played. I guarantee that if you give it a shot (like going to a bar on Saturday to watch the US play Ghana) you'll be hard-pressed not to get swept up in the beautiful game.
In the end, I don't expect to have convinced anyone who is a die hard hater (like Glenn Beck, for instance) that soccer is worthwhile. There will always be soccer haters in the US. It's just getting harder and harder to hear you over the buzz of the vuvuzelas and the cheer of the pro-US crowd after a day like today.