Here it is: Another chance for soccer to matter in the United States.
Don’t blink. You might miss it.
I know, I know. Heard it all before. We’re obsessed with instant gratification. Enamored with small-minded, big-budgeted people. Not cerebral enough to appreciate the world’s game.
Fine. Guilty as charged. The fact is if soccer were meant to be more viable than Betty White in this blessed country, it would have happened long ago.
Pele couldn’t pull it off. Alexei Lalas and Tony Meola couldn’t do it. Brandi Chastain flashing us her sports bra had minimal impact.
And the unsinkable United States men’s national team at the FIFA Confederations Cup — win, lose or phony penalty-kick tiebreaker this afternoon — won’t make it happen, either.
Yes, it’s my fault. I know that, too. It’s the media’s responsibility to make stuff popular, apparently. President Barack Obama is Exhibit A, I suppose.
Sports columnists and editors are too set in our ways. If we just worked harder to understand the beauty of kicking, chasing and drunken rioting and worked twice as hard to convey said splendor to our readers, soccer would supplant American football more quickly than you can say bicycle kick.
Phooey. Soccer is what it has always been: A fun game to play when you’re a kid, and a pleasant enough endeavor to watch when you have an emotional investment in it.
And by emotional investment, I mean your progeny or your local high school or college is on the field.
National pride doesn’t qualify, because there is no national pride in soccer. The average American’s connection to the game doesn’t rise even to the level of Olympic sports, where Michael Phelps, Lindsey Vonn and Seth Wescott show up every four years to dazzle us with their matchless individual gifts.
Soccer flashes us (I’d apologize to Chastain for that pun, but I still think she owes the rest of us an apology) a peek of brilliance once per decade, at best.
In the stunned afterglow of last week’s 2-0 semifinal victory of Spain, ESPN scraped up stock photos to go with a depiction of the most significant victories in U.S. men’s soccer history. (I was waiting for some 30-year-old ignoramus to throw out a comparison to USA 4, USSR 3 at Lake Placid in 1980, because I would have hurled a blunt object at my TV. Thankfully it remains intact.)
Telling, I thought, that most of the victories either took place in the Jurassic period or in the first round of the World Cup or in the finals of some friendly tournament that is soccer’s equivalent of the Deposit Guaranty Classic.
It’s like trying to write a non-fiction book about great Canadian military victories. You run out of material in the middle of the foreword.
Most of soccer’s shortcomings are beyond the immediate control of its apologists.
With few exceptions, America’s finest male athletes stop playing soccer before they sprout their first chest hair.
Every child shuffled through the public school system since the 1970s had soccer and the metric system crammed in his or her grill as if each were the greatest and most necessary thing since toilet paper. Most of them played at least a year of it recreationally on Saturday or Sunday morning, in part to satisfy Mom and Dad’s desire for two hours of peace and quiet.
And then 99.999% of them left their skills simmering on the back burner while other team sports lit their fire.
Some of it is marketing. Only hockey has sold itself to the American masses with greater ineptitude than soccer.
No coincidence there. Those two sports share a kinship in the manner that the initiated sneer at the unconverted, as if their failure to get it or give a rat’s tail about it is a character flaw. There’s also a common denominator in that both are someone else’s game.
That Miracle on Ice, though achieved in a far different political climate and never to be touched in the realm of upsets, is a fair indicator of how we will respond if the U.S. beats Brazil today.
Thirty years later, we speak of that Friday night in the hushed tones reserved for war, religion and Jon and Kate. I still choke up every time I watch the final 30 seconds.
Every. Time. But did it compel me to actually sit down and watch a complete NHL game on the slowest day of my life? No chance.
And after I’m done watching today’s championship game from South Africa, will I set the DVR to tape every remaining Major League Soccer game this year? Please.
It’s been a heck of a ride. It’s a milestone. But like America’s parade of miniature milestones preceding it, it’s one-and-done on a one-way street.
Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is [email protected]


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