Wednesday, July 2, 2014

See You Again In Four Years!

Indulge me if you will, as I do my last Two Cents about soccer for the next four years--which will be about how long it takes for Americans care about soccer again.  What's that you say....Americans have a new-found passion for soccer that will not wane after this World Cup is done?  Forgive me if I laugh at all the commentary we will hear from the sports-talk hosts and ESPN "insiders" pushing that point--because I've been hearing about the "explosion of soccer in the US" my entire life.

It started in 1975 when the New York Cosmos signed Pele to a huge contract to play in the North American Soccer League.  That was going to make the US a "soccer hotbed".  And Pele was everywhere--on Sesame Street, at the White House Kicking it with several Presidents and he was in movies with Sylvester Stallone playing (in a real stretch) a soccer player.  But along came Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach and Walter Payton and Earl Campbell and Howard Cosell--and the "other football" grew to become the most popular sport in the US.

Then in the early to mid-80's soccer supporters pointed out that more kids were playing in their youth leagues than were playing Little Leauge Baseball or girls softball--and the claim was made that "soccer is the sport of the future!"  But along came Larry Bird and Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan and the perfect 64-team bracket of the expanded NCAA Tournament--and basketball became the hottest sport of the decade.

And then the USA hosted the World Cup in 1994--and that was REALLY going to fuel a soccer explosion here--because we would get to see all the best players in the world and the passion of their fans and we would say "Hey, I want in on that too!"  (Do you remember who won?  Anyone.......anyone......Bueller?  It was Brazil.)  But along came Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds--and baseball saw its home-run (and steroid) fueled renaissance.

And then the US Women won their World Cup in 1999 and we heard how women were now going to be the driving force in raising soccer's profile in the country.  Heck, the term "Soccer Mom" became synonymous with anyone who owned a minivan.  But along came Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace and Tony Stewart and NASCAR saw such an increase in female fan base that companies like Kellogg's, Kraft/Nabisco and Proctor&Gamble were sponsoring multiple cars in every race.

And then the US started qualifying for--and winning a few games--in the World Cup--and it was predicted that this new success was going to fuel Americans' hunger to watch more soccer.  But along came internet fantasy leagues and the NFL Network and ESPN's round-the-clock-24/7/365 coverage of the NFL and the BCS and on-line gambling--and the "other football" again has become the undisputed king of all American sports.

So we will always have our memories, Soccer, of Clint Dempsey getting kicked in the face, of Christiano Ronaldo schooling us in the final minute to force a tie and of Tim Howard setting a World Cup record for saves--and losing.  We'll see you again in four years--if we want to stay up until midnight or get up at 3:00 am to watch the next round of World Cup games in Russia.

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