I'm sitting here watching the America v Algeria replay on TV with Lu. We started talking about soccer in America and why we should care about it.
I was a kid in california in the early 60's. Back then we used to take our skates apart and nail them to a piece of wood to make skateboards. They were a brand new thing. There was even a song by the Jan & Dean called Sidewalk Surfing. Remember that? Baseball was still the national past time. Basketball and Football were still small (but growing rapidly) and Hockey virtually unknown.
As Football and Basketball grew in popularity, Baseball began to wane and Hockey remained the province of Canada and those states where snow fall is measured in feet.
Sometime in the 80's or so extreme sports exploded. Athletic suburban kids realized that they couldn't compete in the mainstream sports arena. 4 years of college was not a guarantee of professional athletic achievement and that's where the money was. There was no future in those sports for them. Then a funny thing happened. As extreme sports grew most of those kids realized there was big money to be made there. For a generation that eschewed a 9 to 5 lifestyle it was a dream. Mainstream sport money with acceptable competition. Extreme sports took off.
I also remember when soccer was introduced into our little southern Utah community. It was the 70's and it was coached by a local cop and was played by the kids who couldn't play one of the big 3. In the following years soccer grew a little. Professional soccer, the NASL started in 1968 failed in 1984. Finally, in just the last decade, it seems to have found it's American niche with the MLS. But American soccer isn't important in and of itself. We tend to play the game at an institutional level that is decidedly below that of the Europeans, especially in the Premier League and UEFA. What is important is that suburban American kids are once again seeing a sport where they can compete and make Big 3 money with acceptable competition.
There are 20 teams in Englands Premier League. UEFA has 53. NF-Board has 32. There are others. American kids who don't fancy their chances to make an NFL or NBA roster have another option. Baseball is still declining.
We're seeing top flight American athletes beginning to choose soccer over mainstream sports. the MLS is now a springboard for American kids to move to Europe where soccer is called Football, the people are fanatical about it and big salaries are paid to the top athletes. And the Americans are learning that man for man they can compete at the highest European levels. It is only a matter of time before an American is the highest paid player in Europe. They're bringing that knowledge and those skills back here and passing it on to the next generation of suburban kids dreaming of big money to be made playing a game.
All that doesn't answer the question about why I care. The truth is I'm like most Americans. I find soccer boring and frustrating. Lots of running around with little real action. Sound and fury signifying nothing. But I recognize that America's international athletic future is inextricably tied to soccer. The NFL failed in Europe. Baseball has failed in Canada and is falling here. (Their future is in the South American and Asian markets). Hockey has nearly failed completely and is only one more work stoppage from bankruptcy. Basketball has the best chance for world wide growth but the numbers of players are still relatively small and the salaries of all except the few elite are those of an office worker.
I have always believed that America produces the finest athletes on the planet. We are wealthy enough to be able to afford the time to train and eat the way we need to. We have a work ethic conducive to excellence. We have very smart people who make huge sums of money doing nothing but advising would be and rising sports stars. Eventually they will bend their talents to soccer in the same way they do the Big 3. I believe that is happening even now.
I've watched the last 3 World Cups. Not beginning to end but enough to get a feel for the game and the men who play it. I've seen the American athletes getting better and better. I've seen the coaches learn their craft. But more than that, I've seen the American fans. In foreign countries, wearing the Stars and Stripes, their faces painted red, white and blue. I've seen their anguish over losses and their joy over wins. I have come to realize that they are fans, as passionate about their sport as anyone in Chicago or Green Bay or New York. They know something.
What they know is that just like it's inevitable that Americans will rise to the top of European soccer it is also certain that America will become a World Cup power. There is no sport we cannot master and that thought gives me a warm feeling inside. I love the idea that we will one day take the notion that the provincial Americans, who lack the sophistication to appreciate soccer, will excel at their own game and stuff it down their throats.
That is why I think soccer is important to America. It's another chance to show the world that one nation of free people can conquer the world. That Americans can overcome all obstacles, bad calls and all. Go ahead, crap on us and denigrate us and stack the deck against us. It'll just make the victory all the more sweet when we get done kicking your ass.
Go Team America!
Update June 26. America 1 - Ghana 2. Crap. Just wait til 2014.