I think the points have been made:
— Soccer is largely a tedious game featuring long stretches of uneventful play punctuated by the all-too-rare moment of scoring;
— The clock concept is infuriating. We love the 45-minute halves with no commercials, but then the arbitrary one or three or six minutes of “extra time” violate every concept of precision that a clocked sport should have;
— Soccer has its fan base, and it is not small; but the pressure on America to embrace it to some far larger degree is absurd. We simply never will as long as we have other sports featuring far deeper intrigue.
I have spent a lot of time during World Cup 2014 making these very points against those passionate souls who have insisted that this is the year, this is the time, now is the juncture at which America welcomes soccer in a fashion approaching football, baseball, basketball— hockey, maybe ? Golf? NASCAR?
Nope. Not going to happen. They say never say never. I’m saying never. Soccer will never— ever— reach consistent viewer levels approaching even our fifth or sixth most popular sports, in terms of TV ratings and attendance.
The attempt by elites to cram soccer down our throats are comical, as we are made to feel like rubes for not embracing the sport most of the world loves— because most of the world doesn’t have anything else.
That said, I have heard the diatribes and read the columns crafted by people pushing back against soccer fever— and enjoyed them all, and agreed with most.
But with the USA team’s improbable path into the World Cup’s final 16, I want to offer advice to all the soccer critics— everybody gets it. Points made. Now shut up and root for the Americans.
There has been a window for slapping soccer around. It was wide open for the opening games, when soccer dorks scolded anyone not embracing the sport as God’s greatest gift. We gave as good as we got, and we won. Even the late-arriving bandwagon types knew they were crowded into various venues for two reasons— first, the USA was playing, and second, we understood what a big worldwide deal it is.
As soon as America is ousted— and that could well be after the Belgium game Tuesday afternoon— this entire phenomenon evaporates. We will not gather by the thousands to watch Argentina battle Colombia. But if we can get by Belgium and make the Final Eight— the nation will be going crazy, and everyone keeping the soccer hate alive will come off looking like a bunch of jerks.
I say this with all love to people I share a lot of space with. Conservatives in particular have had a great time savaging soccer— from Ann Coulter, who properly taps the brakes on any sport where girls compete alongside boys, to Marc Thiessen, who crafts a sublime argument that soccer is socialist.
But the fact of the matter is that the world plays it, the world cares about it, and the United States of America might just crash the party even further.
If we do, there is only one proper reaction: celebration. By dinnertime Sunday, July 13, the World Cup final will be over. The USA team will probably not be involved. The next day, America will return to its default soccer setting of ambivalence leaning toward disinterest.
All the critics will have been proven right. There will be no burst of marketplace appetite for soccer in our daily, even yearly lives.
But between now and whenever the USA is done, if the whole World Cup thing is too boring for you or too foreign or too whatever— keep it to yourself. Thousands of your countrymen will be busting their behinds to excel at a game the world cares about a lot more than we do— which should be cause for enthusiasm. We all know American football, baseball and basketball are far better than anything other nations can offer up. As such, American successes in those sports on a world stage are not so surprising.
But for a team of Americans to fight its way out of a group containing three teams from nations that live and die for soccer? To face next week another country that does not have Jack Squat except for soccer? For us to excel in that context makes me enormously proud, even with my pocketful of criticisms for what the world calls “football.”
I know what football is. It is the punishing, compelling, high-scoring affair culminating every year in a Super Bowl that excites me more than any soccer game ever will.
But right now, a team of Americans is trying to win a tournament followed by more human beings than will watch any Super Bowl. I, for one, will cheer for them to win it. And to all of you who have sought to show us how cool you are, or how conservative you are, by bad-mouthing soccer? Stow it for a while. Not because you are wrong, but because large throngs of your fellow Americans will be rooting for our nation to do well on this world stage. And a handful of your countrymen wearing our colors are fighting hard to make us proud.
So let’s be proud. We have the rest of our lives to push back against those who overstate soccer’s appeal. Until our fellow Americans are shown the door, let’s appreciate them by not denigrating their field of battle.
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