first published and featured on medium.com
I can’t win. There is no amazing scenario that will allow the best of both worlds to occur here. This World Cup will be real bad for myself, or America.
I’ve made no attempt to hide my soccer allegiance. Those that know me, know how I eat breathe and sleep Argentine futbol thanks to my father from Buenos Aires. Most of my pieces have centered around his influence on me as a child and now man. But you can find stories about Dad, Messi, Maradona and the Pope anywhere else, just not here today.
America. Hi. This is a plea that you advance out of the group of death. With the world cup already 5 days in, we’ve seen Portugal lose their cool, and shirt against the machine that is and has always been Germany. We’ve also seen you razzle and dazzle for a combined 4 minutes against Ghana and hold on for a much deserved win.
But we need more.
The biggest news, up until today, was the glaring omission of a past his prime legend.
Thank you for the win and for your resiliency in the face of injury.
But we need more.
The disparity between the popularity of the sport in America and the world is so egregious that I can’t name one person I know that can tell you who the past 5 MLS champions have been. In fact I can probably only name 5 friends who know 5 teams, and 2 of these friends work for MLS teams.
I have a friend. We’ll call him Thomas. Thomas is the best golfer I know. Thomas also loves baseball and hockey like no one else. Thomas is from Maine and boy can he ice skate. Need a statistic about baseball? He’s the guy you go to. He’s Neyer and James rolled into the Brawny guy’s flannel shirt with a beard that would singlehandedly make the Red Sox roster. Thomas is also one of the most intelligent, albeit, subjective people I know. But Thomas doesn’t really like to play other sports. He doesn’t really like to talk about basketball and other sports not named Baseball or Hockey. He knows them well enough to offer the occasional quip and stay engaged in a group conversation. But it’s not his thing. It’s not his niche. So when he chimed in a few hours into the start of the World Cup with “This game reminds me of the things that frustrate me about Soccer, spotty subjective refereeing and dives on dives…Brazil got outplayed pretty handily” I wanted to scream.
I wrote on a social media site the first day of action “Cue most of my friends making fun of soccer. As predictable as a first round exit by the US team.” A typical snarky post. One of my old friends from college took it to the next level by bashing my commitment/patriotism to this country and pointing out that I am also a fan of Boston sports team. As if those two things were mutually exclusive in the club of what sports you like. The issue was as predictable as his response. People don’t understand it but must comment on everything as if they were a reliable source. We’ve replaced research and real information with hearsay and opinion.
Because the internet, everyone is a comment section gone wrong. As Slate put it “the internet is sadists playground”. People like to express their opinions in twitter sized troll like blips in hopes of a. showing off their knowledge b. trolling c. disagreeing with someone’s choice of words or d. trolling. We are experts because we can be. And this is fundamentally wrong. And no, this isn’t a matter of freedom of speech. And if you don’t understand the difference, or the fact that websites love this kind of rampant toxic verbal abuse that gets slopped about because, traffic, makes money, then you can stop reading right now, since there are no comments allowed in my little world of the internet. You can absolutely express your opinion, but when it’s presented as fact without sources, you run the risk of looking like a complete jackass.
Back to Thomas.
Or as I like to call him. America.
America doesn’t like soccer, because America hasn’t been able to play soccer as well as the big boys. Can it be that simple?
Just like Thomas doesn’t like playing basketball or American football, America doesn’t like soccer because they’re better at golf and baseball. Thomas couldn’t make a free throw if you lowered the rim and had the basket 6 feet away. But give him a driver and a hole 300 yards away and he’ll putt in for birdie.
We like what we are good at. And most of us are afraid to try anything out of our comfort zone.
Oh, and I tried. I tried to golf. Not because I necessarily love the sport. I tried because I like Thomas and spending time with him. I was out there, dozens of times, at par 3’s and nice little courses in southern california. I gave it an effort. But then I stopped. It didn’t excite me as much as the thought of a pickup basketball game at the local rec. center. It didn’t excite me as much as being the quarterback for a local flag football league. And that’s why Thomas doesn’t join in on the pickup games, or flag games. He’s not good at it, and therefore why should he waste any time learning the beauty of a pick and roll, a baseline J, a fadeaway from the elbow with time expiring? Why bother with the intricacies if it’s never going to be something you enjoy.
And this is why America needs to win. And needs to win quite a bit. The USMNT soccer team is trending, and even though 90% of those tweets, posts, comments, blogs have nothing to do with the actual facts about soccer, and more to do with who can make the best “Ghana/Gonna” joke, or how attractive the soccer players are, or where Landon Donovan is, at least it’s a start. And this time around social media can actually show the country how this is in fact the most beautiful game. The average spectator doesn’t need to be an expert in order to enjoy it. The American team however, must. Because it is with each of these victories, that more and more people will start to listen. They will start to watch, and they will start to care. Example: Try naming the US World Swimmers of the Year before Michael Phelps and after Mark Spitz. G’head…I’ll wait…
Exactly. Nobody talks about Rick DeMont, Tim Shaw, John Naber, Brian Goodell, Rick Carey and Mike Barrowman. Nevermind the fact that American women swimmers have also had incredible success worldwide. If you’re not the historic, or record setting or an atheltic freak of nature, Americans don’t have the extra DVR space to give a damn.
I don’t know if it will ever supplant the prettiest, slowest game of baseball, or the vicious brain damaging battle of American Football, or the high flying repetitive game of basketball. But with each win, America will continue to see how amazing futbol can be.
Wait. I run the risk of eating my own words. If America can survive the group of death, which is now a reality considering Portugal looks like one really really good player with 10, or 9 ok players, and then beats the darling cinderella Belgium, than all signs point to a quarterfinal match against Argentina. So maybe I take all of this back. Maybe I’ll understand what it feels like for my Portuguese- American friend Alex who is having a really good and really bad week, futbolwise. Maybe I’ll be the only person in the room rooting for Argentina, while the rest of my friends and the country I live in, gets sucked into the excitement and the chance of the first US semifinal berth in 70 years. Maybe, if it came down to it, and America beat Argentina, maybe I would smile a bit, knowing my pride had been sacrificed for the greater good of the sport in the US. Maybe it will sting a little bit less.
Wait. No fucking way. I take it all back. I hope Belgium smothers the US in a rusty waffle iron if it comes down to it, so that everyone will want to see Belgium lose, after the ratings plummet here. Nobody expects anything more than that, and I shouldn’t either. I don’t expect anyone to want to watch the games after that, so I’ll just hole up in my room and muffle my cheers while my friends watch games 93, 94, 95 out of a 162 game baseball season.
I don’t expect Thomas to ever call me up and say “hey let’s go kick the ball around”, but if America advances past the round of 32, maybe, just maybe he’ll call me up and express the desire to watch some of the games of La Liga, or The Premier League, not just every 4 years between baseball and hockey games. And if Thomas does that, then there will be hope for soccer in the country.
As long as they don’t beat Argentina.