Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Were You Embarassed?

-I've heard a lot of broadcasters and sports-talk callers crying in their ale about how embarassed they were at the 3-0 beat down taken by the US side at the hands of the Czech Republic in the World Cup Monday. Come on. To be embarassed as a nation, we actually have to really care. Does anyone other than the die-hards give a toot about the US soccer team?...Hell, how many casual sports fans could even identify any of our players prior to the Czech thumping? I'd venture that a good percentage of Americans are just getting up to speed that the World Cup tournament is being played. Sports talk show hosts tend to overdramatize these losses to "keep the pot stirred".

Sure, you'd like the guys wearing the red, white and blue to put in a good showing. But, the reality of the soccer world is still that Americans want a winner because the games are played on a world stage, but aren't really heavily invested in the sport itself. We might have higher expectations than we did twenty years ago. But we still don't have the religious fervor for the sport that other countries do. Until that comes along, any kind of national embarassment is just impossible. The U.S. basketball team losing in the Olympics...now that's national embarassment.

I remember when the American women turned on the soccer world a few years back. It was a great story in the 90's and early 00's. It was the feel-good feature of its time. But, has Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain, and the rest of Team USA's story really had staying power? How many professional women's soccer games have you seen in the last year? Kinda hard to be a fan now isn't it? Soccer hasn't made the radar with most of us. We enjoyed their winning. We appreciated the glory. But not enough to change our deep-down indifference about the sport.

Participation in youth soccer is as strong as ever. But the good ol' USA still has a long way to go before it becomes the spectator sport it is everywhere else on the planet. Maybe the MLS (Major League Soocer) is making some inroads. But it's a long way from the NFL, MLB, NBA, or even the crippled NHL at this point.

Until we generate a true superstar in soccer...a la Pele, David Beckham, Ronaldo, or current Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho (pictured), we won't be able to put a face on our entrance onto the world stage. 15-year-old prodigy Freddy Adu who plays for DC United in the MLS is possibly on the verge of becoming that guy. But still being so tender, he didn't even make this World Cup team's roster. We need an ambassador of the sport to emerge from our own country...someone to be a point of pride. Then maybe soccer will be able to develop the momentum it needs in our own minds to compete with the other major sports. Until then, let's not get too worked up over the World Cup, because we haven't claimed any ownership in the sport yet. Right now, we're just playing the rest of the world's game.

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