Thursday, June 22, 2006

Bitterly Disappointing

I suppose I could have arranged for the flight home from Phoenix last night, but I've never cottoned well to the notion of arriving at my house at 1:30 in the morning. So I knew I would be missing the critical third game for the United States in the World Cup today against Ghana. Sure the U.S. would have to do some unusual things, like win in Europe for the first time, and actually score a goal in this tournament on their own. But this was the most talented U.S. side ever, right? If this team couldn't do it, who could?

We were in the air, and it was around 45 minutes after the game started, and the pilot came on the intercom and announced the score as Ghana 2, U.S. 0. (This was actually incorrect, the halftime score was 2-1). I felt a moment of anguish and disgust. I was glad I wasn't actually watching the game. With that result, it wouldn't matter what Italy did against the Czech Republic.

As soon as I landed in Minneapolis, I found a television to confirm the bad news. What was worse, they were showing replays of the foul in the penalty area by Oguchi Onyewu that led to the go ahead penalty kick for Ghana. Now, gentle readers, I am a soccer referee by avocation, and I will defend referees to the death. And this referee was Markus Merk of Germany, truly one of the best in the world. But this call was so scandalously bad as to be almost profane. I am certain Herr Merk had some explaining to do to the match inspector during his debriefing. To me, Onyewu had position, played the ball (not the player) and it was more a case of the player running into him and selling a call. Honestly, I would not have made that call in a under-17 youth match.

Be that as it may, the United States had 45 minutes to right the ship, and they could not. Regardless of how fair the penalty call was, a champion overcomes obstacles, and this team was not up to task. So it ended at 2-1, with Italy beating the Czech Republic, the result the U.S. needed in the other match. So now the postmortems begin. So what about the coach? As much as he's boosted the program the last eight years, Bruce Arena pulled a Steve Sampson in the finals. He took a team with attacking talent and took out the talent. The team overall played tentatively and without confidence. The talents of Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson were wasted. Demarcus Beasley was misused, and his performance showed it. Casey Keller was uneven. And on and on and on. There was so much promise to this team, the team that won CONCACAF, and the last Gold Cup, that to see it fall flat is frustrating to say the least. Or maybe they were overrated after all. Expect Arena to be given the accolades he deserves, then quietly moved along.

So now we're in for another four years of dismissive patronizing by snarky sports talking heads. "Oh there's no reason to watch the World Cup" they'll say. But just like everything else they're wrong at, they'll miss the mark here. The true sports fan will watch anything involving a ball (and some things that don't). The true soccer fan does more than root for his country's team. The World Cup is live drama, with stories developing right before our eyes. Let's not forget that the Czech Republic was ranked second in the world rankings, and they're going home, too. Ghana has captured the imagination of the world in the last week and a half. Germany, Brazil, and Argentina look exceptionally strong heading into the round of sixteen.

"Soccer will never be a major sport in this country" they'll say, as though victims of a vast worldwide conspiracy. Well, of course it won't, any wise follower of the sport in this country will tell you. "It's boring!" I always laugh at that one. Baseball, which I enjoy greatly, can be massively boring, but that doesn't seem to hurt it. Enjoy soccer for what it is. That's what we do. And watch it grow on you. It all starts again in two years, when the qualifying process begins one more time for the next world cup. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of this World Cup.

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4 astute observations :

  1. stuffle said...

    I didn't get to see the game either, but did monitor it from work. I was somewhat disappointed at first. In the end, I don't really care much, though. I will still watch the rest of the World Cup games (at least the ones on the weekends). Just like I don't stop watching baseball in October if the Brewers and Yankees are both out. The drama of the games is still pretty intense.

    As for soccer never being a major sport in this country, that is probably true. We already have the best sports associations in the world (MLB, NFL, NBA, NASCAR, and NHL). I just can't see there being much room for anything more (actually, NHL is already somewhat marginalized, and will probably slip farther). With all of that, soccer will likely remain a niche sport. Oh well. No loss there. I still like to watch it, and it being a niche sport just means less crowds to deal with... :)

  2. Callisto said...

    Ah the old "Soccer will never be a major sport in this country" and the blame game. Familiar here also. Now that Australia has made it's way to the next round, (wooohooo) maybe things will change. I for one certainly hope so, I'm so over Rugby League.

  3. Marpla-Barcelonauta said...

    Stuffle, what do you mean by this?

    "We already have the best sports associations in the world (MLB, NFL, NBA, NASCAR, and NHL)"

    Best in which way?

  4. stuffle said...

    marplanuata - in all ways. When it comes to pulling in talent from all over the world, I can think of no better baseball association in world than MLB. Japan has some pretty good baseball leagues, but many of their best players end up over here. Same for many Latin American countries.

    The same can be said for the NBA, NFL, and NHL for their sports, with the NHL being probably the most extreme (we have most of the team, yet natively produce almost none of the top players).

    NASCAR is the only one on the list that is questionable. There is no doubt that the most talented drivers in the US shoot for a NASCAR ride, but in the rest of the world, F1 gets top billing. There is no doubt that NASCAR is the top full bodied stock series in the world however.

    Given all of that, and a limited number of time and money for people to spend on sports, Soccer simply has a tough sell in the US.

    Plus, most people in the US find our existing sports to be far more exciting than soccer, which makes them "best" by that measure, too. Personally, I don't like basketball, and find American Football a tad dull, and actually like soccer, but I am atypical.