Hating on the haters
Posted July 2
Updated 2:45 p.m. Monday
"Now that the United States is out of the World Cup can we go back to not caring about soccer?" -- anonymous
This sentiment has been pervasive throughout the sports media world since Belgium knocked our team of young, German-born, future stars out of the tournament. I don't want to assign the phrase "majority opinion" to the notion that we can now finally return to our regularly-scheduled (not American) football-free existence but there are a number of things that conspire to cause people to react in this manner that are worth exploring.
First off, I feel depressed and excited, empty and full of hope all at the same time. Tuesday's loss to Belgium was the end of this World Cup – one that head coach Jurgen Klinsmann told us months ago that we were not ready to win – but it was really the beginning of the next era of the United States Men's National Team (USMNT). While we're likely saying goodbye to known American stars like forward Clint Dempsey and goalkeeper Tim Howard, who yesterday recorded more saves in a single world cup match than anyone had in a half century, we also got a glimpse of what's to come when 19-year old Julian Green scored on the first touch of his World Cup career, bringing the USA within a goal and giving us even a glimmer of hope that the evening would end with a favorable result.
Alas, it was not meant to be. Belgium was significantly better than we were. Belgium is significantly better than we are at this stage of the Klinsmann era. Bigger, faster, stronger, better, yadda, yadda, yadda. The Red Devils deserved to press on and we should all wish them well against Argentina on Saturday. The Americans will regroup, look ahead to 2018 in Russia and continue to develop Green, Jozy Altidore, Fabian Johnson, John Brooks, Timmy Chandler, Mix Diskerud and Aron Johansson into future international football stars. Of that group, only Altidore wasn't either born or raised in Europe. And, we're not done with you Michael Bradley. We understand that Altidore's injury impacted Bradley, and Dempsey, more than anyone else, and we're confident that Bradley will wear the yellow arm band in four years.
That's when we'll resume caring about soccer, right?
For those of you who are under the impression that we don't I could cite the historic television ratings in which ESPN drew the largest non-American football audience in their 35 year history. That's right, more than any game of the most recent NBA Finals featuring LeBron James. I could point out that WatchESPN recorded tens of millions of unique visitors, all streaming World Cup matches – and NOT ONLY those involving the United States. Or I could show you pictures from places like Indianapolis, Kansas City, Chicago, Seattle or Dallas, where thousands of fans gathered to watch in stadiums, plazas, and sports bars more than 3,000 miles from the actual games.
What this World Cup did for American soccer, USA will be back in 2018. | pic.twitter.com/VlT0oHciOk— 2014 World Cup (@2014WorIdCup) July 2, 2014
But, we don't care about soccer, right?
To those of you holding tightly to that belief, you're not alone. There are hundreds, if not thousands that are in total agreement. And, because this is America, we're allowed to think and feel that way. The reality, however, is that we view everything in sports through the prism of the popularity of the NFL and because of that all other entities pale in comparison. So why the need to shove the sport back into shoe box and stuff it into your closet behind your old baseball cards? All sports fall way short of measuring up to American football, right?
Look, no one is turning the United States into a soccer-frenzied nation. It will fight for the American sports fan's disposable income along with everything else that isn't the NFL. And, it was very obvious that our program isn't yet at the level of the top nations in Europe and South America. But, we do care. English Premiere League matches on NBC Sports Network draw TV ratings that are at least comparable to those of the national regular season NHL broadcasts without the added benefit of being able to readily attend a game. Have you seen college basketball television numbers lately?
My guess, however, is that those of you who feel the uncontrollable urge to bury soccer are doing so to make yourselves feel better. You're probably also predisposed to dislike change of any kind. You think there's too much passing in football. You wonder why teams don't sacrifice bunt more often. Oregon's uniforms give you nightmares. Your closet is filled with pleated pants. You think no one can tell you're sporting a combover. You're probably also deathly afraid of broccolini.
What IS that? Can I eat it?
Mostly, those that can't suppress the urge to knock soccer, or anything else that's relatively new and enjoyed by millions of others, are just afraid. Afraid that the world is passing them by as we become more and more in touch globally. Afraid that they won't be able to appear knowledgeable. I mean, they KNOW football, baseball, basketball and maybe even hockey. They can head down to the corner bar and hold court on the finer points of a 3-step drop, or the infield fly rule, but a free versus an indirect kick? Games can end it a tie? No thank you.
I've got news for you, pal. You're not nearly as sports-savvy as you think. Bunting decreases your chances of scoring, throwing the football is exciting and leads to more offense, Oregon's uniforms are cool, pleated pants have been out of style for a decade – except on the Champions Tour in golf – and you're going bald, just deal with it.
Oh, and broccolini, is kind of a hybrid between broccoli and asparagus. Close your eyes, hold your nose and take a bite. Just like you do with soccer. You just might like it.