Soccer is a problematic sport for Americans.
To us, it’s an English game, and we generally like the English. They’re plucky. When England sends us something we like, we keep it. Examples would be The Beatles, Monty Python, and Kate Beckinsale. On the flipside, what we don’t like, we send back to the kitchen. Hot tea, the Queen, and the word “ssshedjule” did not take root in our fertile soil.
Hold on, don’t get restless. I have plenty more metaphors to mix before I’m done.
Soccer is somewhere in the middle. Everyone enjoys playing it, but nobody wants to watch it. We Yanks love to see a good scoring run as much as any other Tomas, Richard, or Henri, but we hate the strategic passing, the nil-nil scores, and the crybaby turf-diving.
So why does it work here at all? Because Americans like to be good at everything, and because we have more than our fair share of iconoclastic personalities. Only Australia has more square pegs per-capita. In 99 out of 100 American homes, the speedy, athletic kid with endurance to burn will make Dad proud and pick up a helmet or a stick. But that one percent gives Pops the middle finger and goes out for soccer, because that kid loves it and plays it well, and because he doesn’t like being part of the status quo. These are the guys and gals who make up our World Cup teams.
Almost everywhere else in the world, that ratio is inverted. Most of the club teams are filled with superior players, and the national teams get to pick and choose the best of the best from those squads. It’s kind of like the bad old days of the Olympics, when U.S. teams were made up of true amateurs while the Soviets and Chinese basically spared no expense to build inhuman quadruple-lutzing robots who killed us more often than not. That wasn’t cool, and I really don’t think the Dream Team concept is any better (especially since they took up sucking).
At some point I suspect we’ll get serious about Soccer and put together a team that can compete with the big boys. We already have the talent, but we don’t seem to have the guts to play with our balls out just yet. Maybe we just haven’t found the soccer version of Michael Jordan yet. Or better yet, the soccer version of Magic vs. Bird.
The World Cup is probably the key. If Zinedine Zidane had head-butted Landon Donovan to the ground, you’d probably have big-hat rednecks signing up to fight the foreign menace the next day. Well, maybe not Landon Donovan, he’s a bit of a twerp. But I guarantee Oguchi Onyewu would have folded ZZ’s crepes for him. The U.S. doesn’t really have rivals in international soccer, and until someone pisses us off, we probably won’t take the whole thing seriously as a nation.
I could be wrong though. It could just be that shinguards itch.