Soccer’s Big U.S. Chance

I started this column without the intention of writing about the WWC Final (since it wasn’t the topic), but on the heels of that game, I will throw my two cents in. Bullet-form just to keep it quick.

  • The U.S. controlled about 90 of the 120 minutes played. That means something, but not everything.
  • The U.S. squandered many chances in the first half. They have nothing to do with why they lost.
  • Alex Morgan’s goal was very reminiscent of how the U.S. men would score. For the most part the build-ups and chances came from fluid, attractive, attacking football. This is unequivocally good for US Soccer.
  • The U.S. lost two leads, both within 10 minutes of having it all sewn up. That is inexcusable if you want to be champions.
  • For those of you who do not like soccer because of the draws, you now see why most consider a draw fairer than penalties. In a situation like this they are necessary, but often penalties seem just as unjust as a draw.
  • Shannon Boxx’s penalty effort was very poor (nowhere near the corner). Carly Lloyd’s penalty effort was very poor (over the top). The other two were well taken, though I thought that Tobin Heath sort of hinted at her direction with her hip angle when she struck the ball. Though, maybe I am overanalyzing that.
  • Hard to say Japan really “deserved to win” since they were outplayed for such long stretches, but they got their goals when they needed to and were the benefactors of some questionable U.S. defending.
  • I think the U.S. did well in this tournament, but I hope the media (for all their flaws and blowhard nature ) doesn’t lay off them for blowing those leads. Show them the respect they deserve and criticize them as the fantastic world-class athletes they are.
  • Congratulations to Japan.

Alright, back to the topic I really meant to write about, Soccer’s Big U.S. Chance.

If there is one thing we like here in the U.S., it is a winner. Think we would have followed the Women’s World Cup nationally the way we did if they were as mediocre as the men’s team? No, we will accept anything if we are winning it, just ask Apolo Anton Ohno. This is not a criticism in the least since supporting your national teams in anything is a positive, but merely a reflection of the US mentality towards sports it is not familiar with. The U.S. teams are not going to get better over the next year, but something significant could be in the works for soccer’s popularity in the United States.

The NBA lockout is upon us and it seems there is no end in sight. The optimists claim we could have basketball by January or so. The pessimists say we could have it by fall of 2012. The nation will notice during football season, but it will not lose it’s collective mind. However, after the Super Bowl, what will we have. College Basketball can play its part without a doubt. It will have to. But what happens to all those hours of coverage otherwise devoted to the NBA? Do we really get to listen to lockout news for all that time or will we be given coverage of another sport? A sport ESPN has been investing in quite a bit lately, perhaps? Oh, you mean to tell me February-late May is the heart of the English Premier League season? ESPN cannot drive fans to a sport alone, but I am damnedsure boredom and craving of a sport to play filler would work. What’s even better is that fans of basketball, assuming they like the flowing action of the game, the movement off the ball, and so on, should really enjoy soccer played at the highest level.

The Catalyst?

Look, it would have been great for popularity if the US Women had won, but they didn’t. The women’s game can be very entertaining but you would be hard-pressed to find somewhere you could regularly watch women’s soccer. I don’t know if fans of the WWC were tuning in because it was the US Women or because they enjoyed the game the women were playing, but I am sure it was not 100% just for the US among those who were not soccer fans. We all saw what happened after 1999 anyway. The US won, the nation loved it, and a few years later went on not caring about professional soccer. The event clearly helped get more boys and girls playing soccer, but it didn’t do a ton for the US’ interest as a whole. Now there are two potential reasons for that, one good and one bad. The good one would be that we just couldn’t fit soccer into our busy sports schedule. I mean we have sports year-round and who has time to squeeze in a sport that’s played an ocean away? The bad answer would be that we just don’t like soccer.

Now I have no way of knowing which the real answer is, but if it is the first one, we could be in for a decent boom of US interest in soccer. We don’t have the same issue fitting it into our schedule, we get to pick it up at an exciting time (the January Transfer Window), and toward the time when the NBA Playoffs would be, we get the final few rounds of the Champions League and league titles hanging in the balance. You don’t even have to like soccer to appreciate that! On the one hand you have the absolute best the world has to offer (which is always attractive to fans) and on the other hand you have a title race (attractive) and the utter desperation and guts of relegation battles. If people watch it unfold with any idea of the situations going down, they will at least make some room for it because it is a spectacle unlike anything we really see in US sports. The Dodgers are going bankrupt right now, but they have no dangers of being sent to AAA and being replaced in MLB. The World Series is a great accomplishment but does not face a 7 game series with the champions of Japan’s league, Cuba’s league, etc. I promise you, that if you watch it, you will enjoy either the amazing talent levels or the absolute boom-bust nature of the last few weeks for some teams. America loves Reality TV. There is no way they would not eat it up IF they give soccer a shot.

There is a reason I didn’t title this column “Soccer: America’s Next Favorite Sport”. This is a chance, and a chance alone, for soccer to really grow in popularity in the U.S. However, sometimes all you need (as in soccer) is a half-chance to make something happen. Maybe this NBA Lockout and exposure to the World Cup will pay dividends for American Soccer. Maybe the U.S. will still not grasp the idea of the league titles and Champions League being separate competitions in a year. I, for one, have no idea. However, I do know that this January is as good a time as any to jump into soccer headfirst. I will do my part with weekly EPL, Champions League, and other soccer news, but I can’t make you like it. Give it a shot. Who knows, you might find yourself screaming GOLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Maybe you won’t even find it strange I spelled it without an A.

Here is my obligatory “beautiful game” video clip for your viewing pleasure. It’s a gem.

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