Did you chant “U.S.A” when Clint Dempsey put in the first goal in the first minute against Ghana? Did you wince when Jozy Altidore went down? Did you hug a stranger when John Brooks scored to put the US up 2-1 in the opening match? Did you scream your head off when Jermaine Jones roped one of the best outside shots of the tournament? Did you wait in panic for 20 minutes as the clock ran down against Portugal and did your heart fall out of your butt when Varela headed in the tying goal? Were you confused as hell when the US lost to Germany but we were still allowed to keep playing in the tournament and had to Google the rules of group play on your phone at the bar so you didn’t sound stupid when someone asked why we were all still clapping? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be an American soccer fan.
Whether it was a new found love for soccer or a just a reason to dress like Captain America’s out of shape (but ironically patriotic) brother Cap’n ‘Murica, people all across this country piled into bars, parks, living room couches, and traveled to stadiums in the Amazon rainforest to cheer on the United States Men’s National Team.
I wouldn’t say that Americans have been “bit by the soccer bug.” That implies a spontaneous, oncoming infection without warning, like bite from a an exotic amazonian spider. I think our love of soccer has been dormant in our system for years, only to suddenly become active and stronger than any average infection.
I think if we were “bit,” it was in 1994 when we hosted the World Cup on our own turf. For the first time the world’s game came to us and soccer has been with us ever since. It didn’t come at us full force with a helmet to helmet hit, and it didn’t become a national pastime, but soccer has been there though our formation as sports fans. It has been behind the scenes, quiet, growing and building. But make no mistake – soccer has been there. My generation grew up with soccer. Maybe not as soccer fans, but we grew up with the game. You will be hard pressed to find a boy or girl in this country who did not play a single season of rec league soccer. Whether you played for a year in elementary school or were the starting center back at Indiana University, we all have some soccer experience. We may not wave Columbus Crew or New England Revolution scarfs every week, but that doesn’t mean the MLS hasn’t been slowly growing in relevance and popularity each season. And you can’t tell me you have no idea who Ronaldo, Beckham, Howard, or Rooney are. We might not a be a soccer nation, but it has always been there in our subconscious.
Whether it was a sudden infatuation, or a slow building obsession, millions of Americans tuned in to the 2014 World Cup. And you know what? America is hooked. I am not saying that we are the next dominant soccer nation (at least the men’s team isn’t… our Women’s team is nothing if not an international soccer powerhouse) but we are growing in relevance on the world stage and our nation was there every step of the way supporting. I mean the Brazilians even gave the Americans some love.
After the US loss of Belgium, I heard a number of reactions ranging from “this is the year that we become a soccer nation” to “soccer is representative of the moral decay of our great nation (thanks Obama).” One thing was clear, the discussion of soccer is extremely polarized. People either are borderline “football hooligans” or xenophobic “real football” fans, like Ann Coulter who think soccer is “a girly sport”. (once again our women’s national team is the most dominant soccer team in the world…I don’t think ‘girly’ is an insult, Ann) The soccer fans argue why soccer is better than all other American sports and the people who don’t like soccer argue that they hate the game because soccer players are “pussies.” Let’s clear a few things up to make the discussion of soccer much more amicable.
To all super intense soccer fans:
1.Don’t be a jerk. Making fun of football and baseball does not make soccer cooler, it makes other sports fans think you are an asshole.
2.Don’t be such a hipster about it. If you want something to be cool and accepted by the rest of the country don’t make it such an elitist thing. Soccer belongs to the world, not just you.
To all xenophobic soccer haters:
1.Stop using such sexist and hateful language. Just because you have disparaging thoughts about women and homosexuals, doesn’t make soccer any less of an amazing game.
2.Liking soccer doesn’t make you Un-American. You can still be a red blooded, meat eating, gun-owning, American man and still like soccer (Trust me, I sat on my couch yesterday, ate a cheeseburger, and cleaned my 12 gauge…all while watching SOCCER).
Here it is sports fans. Let’s put pretentious attitudes and jingoism away and get to the basics. Soccer is amazing game loved the world over, and we have a rightful place in the world’s game.
We may not be a soccer nation anytime soon (or ever) but we are at least talking about the sport. Love it or hate it, soccer is relevant. Its all over our TV and all over social media, and the fact is, Americans want more soccer! And why wouldn’t we?
So watch the rest of the World Cup (even if we aren’t in it). Find the closest MLS team and go to a game. Find an adult league and try and play again. Find your local soccer bar, down some pints and watch a game with some strangers (you will be freinds by the 90th minute) Pick an EPL side and watch some of the best players in the world every week (don’t worry it wont interfere with baseball or football games). Soccer is the world’s game, just because we are the new kids on the block does not mean that soccer doesn’t belong to us too.