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Bartosh

Cup-generated interest will runneth dry 

Last week’s power outage was certainly inconvenient but not being able to watch the World Cup because of it didn’t bother me at all.
I just substituted watching my unrefrigerated food spoil for viewing excitement.
I know my opinion might be in the minority right now, but I’m willing to wait. Millions of Americans will return to the dark side with me once Cup fever subsides. And trust me it will.
However, not everyone in my profession thinks so. One Chicago Tribune columnist reported on the high TV ratings the 2014 World Cup broadcasts have garnered. And a woman who writes for the New York Times News Service was positively gushing about the U.S. team following its elimination loss to Belgium.
Specifically, Juliet Macur focused on U.S. goalie Tim Howard, who made 16 saves in the match. I won’t deny that was a great performance, but Ms. Macur’s post-match hyperbole was enough to make even the most seasoned PR professional blush.

Don’t believe me? Check out this line from one of her recent columns: “Forget ‘I want to be like Mike,’ or Venus and Serena, or Tiger. America has fallen in love with someone new, and something new, and sporting goods stores will stock up on goalie uniforms if they know what’s good for them.”
Oh, and there’s this little nugget: “When U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard knocked down shot after shot in Tuesday’s game against Belgium, the viewing experience wasn’t at all like watching LeBron James score 60 points or Peyton Manning drill a pass through three defenders for a last-second touchdown. No, it was better than that. It was sweeter than that.”
Whoa there, Ms. Macur. Slow down a bit and let’s get some perspective. Better yet, let’s do a little review of soccer history as it involves America.
Remember the 1994 men’s World Cup that was held in the U.S.? That was supposed to be the trigger for mass acceptance of soccer in this country, but apparently the trigger got jammed because no such thing happened. The World Cup went bye-bye and a majority of the fans followed.
Five years later, the U.S. women made a similar splash, thanks to another American setting for the matches and Brandi Chastain’s sports bra-bearing celebration after scoring a winning goal. Again we were told that soccer had officially arrived in the U.S. and was about to take its place alongside the Big Four of team sports, perhaps even supplanting one or two of them in popularity.
Again we were told a fib. Sports bra sales, though, certainly benefited from the added exposure.
Soccer’s initial attempt to make inroads among U.S. fans actually occurred way back in the 1970s, when Pele came to New York to play in the now-defunct North American Soccer League. Pele was soccer’s Babe Ruth and, understandably, he drew plenty of attention while suiting up for the New York Cosmos — attention that waned once the novelty wore off and disappeared completely upon his retirement.
If it didn’t, the NASL would still be in existence, right? Now if Pele couldn’t close the deal, how is Tim Howard going to do so?
In truth, I found some of Ms. Macur’s column amusing, and that’s not said sarcastically. She commented on Howard’s sudden cyber-world fame and said he probably could have stopped everything from Blockbuster’s bankruptcy to the Titanic’s sinking to failed marriages on that particular day.
I’m not going to claim soccer has not gained ground since Pele. Kids’ leagues are everywhere, and as I’ve admitted before those are great because there’s no lonely position on a soccer field, no right field to deposit the “clumsy” kids. There’s also far less standing around, which is common to virtually every spot on the diamond and causes kids to daydream their way into distraction, not a good thing when playing a game where a hard ball can come flying at fielders at expressway-level speed.
And not possessing the requisite hand-eye coordination to hit a baseball with any degree of consistency is no liability in soccer. Anyone can kick a big, round ball, an important consideration in today’s nobody-can-be-allowed-to-fail-lest-we-forever-damage-their-psyche environment.
But there is insufficient evidence to suggest that soccer-playing youngsters will grow up to be soccer fans instead of football, basketball, baseball or hockey fans. And as I’ve stated previously part of the problem is that soccer’s American professional league remains an afterthought.
Pro basketball and hockey players now compete in the Olympics, but even winning gold there doesn’t overshadow NBA or NHL championships. Obviously the World Series and Super Bowl represent the respective pinnacles of their sports as well, but how much cachet does being a Major League Soccer champion carry?
In fact who can tell me, without looking it up, which team captured last year’s MLS crown? I didn’t think so.
Let’s talk, too, about the defensive nature of soccer. Virtually every rules change made in sports favors offense. We’re told chicks dig the long ball, and so apparently does everyone else.
If a 2-1 score in sports we already like is supposedly a turn-off, how can it be a good for a sport too many of us don’t care a whit about?
Maybe one day when all the old geezers like me start doing our sports-watching where real angels and saints reside, soccer will finally get its chance to appeal to the public at large. Go ahead and blame the older generation’s inflexibility for denying soccer a spot at the head sports table -- it’s the same thing that’s fueling the rise of “classic TV” stations and continued presence of oldies radio outlets.
But what happens if the next batch of sports fans is a carbon copy of the one that’s here now, one that is growing increasingly weary of the “soccer is the sport of the future in America” blather that’s been going on for nearly four decades.
My gosh, is the future ever going to get here?
The rest of the world loves soccer strongly enough to go crazy when things don’t go right for their favorite team —or even when they do. That’s silly to get so wrapped up in the outcome of a soccer match. Thank goodness Americans are smarter than that.
We save our worst behavior for far more important things in life, like umpiring mistakes in Little League games.