For the last 10 days or so I must admit I learned to be a soccer (futbol) fan. Normally when I hear football I expect to see 300 pound plus lineman colliding as they make room for a running back or hold the rush away long enough for the prima donna quarterbacks to earn their fortunes. But over the last week and a half I have watched the likes of Argentina, Uruguay, Nigeria, Algeria and others rumble back and forth over the pitch in Brazil as they chase the glory of the World Cup.
For the sake of clarity in this post let me state I will be calling American football by the only name I know it, football and soccer I will refer to as futbol. I feel it is only fitting I do so as the majority of the civilized world calls soccer football and I am considering my self one of the converted. This comes as a result of watching several of the Group Stage matches as well as a few of the Round of 16 tilts. More admission, before this year I really felt futbol was a lot of mindless running and a lack of scoring. While the premium on scoring is true, I more fully appreciate the ability of teams and goalkeepers to present such a masterpiece.
With the previous stated, however, I must focus on the thrust of my post, which is to review the impact of the USA effort in this 2014 World Cup. Did the exploits of the United States team create enough of a hunger to feed the minds of American youngsters, youth and fans to drive the interest forward? For the last fortnight the interest has been palpable. Social media has been buzzing with posts and the famous “I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!!” has echoed in bars, parks and stadiums across America. People knew there was an American team in the World Cup which is important. If no one knew or cared it would be a solid statement of apathy.
No matter how much immediate excitement there is however, futbol still faces an uphill climb. The four major professional sports have more than a foothold on the minds of Americans. Basically the entire calendar is covered by the seasons of these long established and iconic sports. Just in the last few weeks I have seen multiple posts from friends who are visiting MLB parks on their vacation. Football, the kind with helmets, field goals and hail mary passes is a solid number one, with that fever consuming me by early September. So what could make futbol more popular? That is a question postulated for ages.
If the American team continues to play competitively in the World Cup every 4 years it will certainly help. In my humble estimation their competitive play ended with the Germany match. If not for the heroics of Tim Howard yesterday the USA score could have been downright embarrassing. This futbol giant stopped 16 goals. Let me give you some perspective on that. In group play Group D, F, G and H each collectively scored less goals than Mr. Howard turned away. Many will herald his accomplishment and rightfully so, but we must also examine the fact that Belgium was able to mount 18 attacks on the goal of the US team. I understand you want your team to solid in defense and yes, defense can indeed win championships, as the 2013 Seattle Seahawks proved, but in soccer you must be able to score. The US team did not do enough of that.
I was tense as I watched the largest part of the match yesterday, understanding the frugal amount of goals the USA usually delivered and balancing that against he reputation of the young Belgian goalkeeper. Perhaps Jurgen Klinsmann can continue to develop the US soccer team to where they can compete with the goliaths of the sport. Belgium draws Argentina next and I feel the U.S. team would not have advanced past this match should they have managed to pull out the win yesterday. This is the friction point soccer in the U.S. must overcome, the lack of ability to be called elite.
Argentina are a weak team this year, and only advanced because they were the strongest in a weak group. If Argentina had been in a different group, one that might have had the patience and stamina to continue double marking Messi until the final whistle, perhaps he wouldn’t have scored the goals that allowed them to win their group and advance. The same could be said of their Round of 16 game. Swizterland came very close to shutting him out and scoring themselves.
Plus, we should not forget that Wondo had a brilliant chance to win the game for the US and missed a gimme goal. One that he would be likely to score 19 out of 20 times. As Klinnsman said after the match, “We were missing a bit of luck.” On a different day, that would have gone in and we would have advanced.
I found it funny how interest in soccer peaks in the States every four years and people wonder if it “has finalliy arrived.” While at the same time, those of who watch year in and out, watch the domestic league, follow th qualification process, watch other leagues around the world, go to games, etc… know that it has already arrived. The stadiums are full. The teams all have supporters groups. The games are fun to watch. All that we are “missing” is the TV coverage that brings in the big money the other sports enjoy. And that would be nice, so we could pay our players more competetive wages and get the best to stay here rather than playing abroad, but, since the top 3 US players are already playing here (Dempsey, Bradley, and Donavon) perhaps we are already on the right path to fix that as well.