The American soccer team seemingly came back from the dead in the Confederation Cup in South Africa, a sort of World Cup warm-up tourney as much for the host country as for the participants, defying all odds by miraculously getting into the semi-finals before then shocking Spain 2-nil to make the championship game. They may have ultimately lost 3-2 to Brazil, after the latter stormed back from an improbably 2-0 halftime deficit to take over the game. And while I personally will say I'm proud of their efforts as a team to show the world they have good players and can compete, I was also glad to hear players and the head coach say afterwards they were bitterly disappointed with the loss. That's already a good sign they've come a long way in a short time. Better than hearing "I'm proud of our team, we consider this a moral victory" and so on.
But whatever this means as far as where the US will stand in world soccer, what is also interesting to me is hearing perspectives on soccer fandom here in the States. There's still the stereotype that no one here cares about the world's most popular sport. While clearly it does not have the same level of obsession here that does, say, the NBA or American football, it continues to grow in leaps and bounds in my estimation. Part of that is just having the constant influx of immigrants, and children of immigrants, bringing their passion for the game from their homelands; part of it is just a constant upswing in the numbers of people playing the game, each subsequent generation is more likely to have played the game than the last; part of it is just increasing global awareness and interconnectedness. And I am just one of millions of American adults who play the sport.
I have no doubt that appreciation for watching soccer on television is improved greatly if one has actually played the game. Clearly, for those who do not, the action is not as easily embraced.
But while I have no problem with hearing an American say "I am not interested in soccer" it's words that follow that irk me: "...and neither does anyone else here." The implication is often that, I don't care so why should anyone? What can the universe really gain from that attitude other than your place in it as a willfully ignorant soul?
It speaks to something greater, this discourse on soccer's popularity in the United States, than just the game itself. It speaks to whether we as a people are broadening our horizon, or willing to, or simply wanting to close down.
I am an optimist and believe that Americans who appreciate the sport will continue to increase in number, and to parallel that, Americans will continue to become more and more globally interconnected.
It's a beautiful game. And I'd be happy to explain to any skeptic why that is over a beer sometime.
Here's a good piece in Newsday from John Jeansonne for more perspective.
And another: (From the Philly Inquirer)