That was a lot of fun. I liked watching the United States team scratch and claw their way through the World Cup, and I think a lot of you did, too. In fact, I know you did.
About 15 million of you watched us play Ghana on TV, and I’m sure a great deal many more cared in some way about what happened. Check out this PostmanR article on ESPN.com about the interest in the World Cup. Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria tore Twitter a new one. People were into this. It came in varying degrees, I’m sure, with some of you caring in that brief, fleeting “I hope our kids beat Taipei in the Little League World Series” way.
But I think there were some of you who found yourself caring a lot more than you thought you would. We tied England and you thought, “Hey, we might not suck too bad at this, and anytime I can enjoy leaving a smug Brit feeling suicidal, that’s something I’d like to be a part of.”
Then came the oh-so-dramatic Donovan goal against Algeria, and how could you feel anything but bliss? The stakes and the timing made it about as dramatic as sports get, and you’d have had to have a heart made of stone to not feel a little bit of something right there. Maybe it was joy, maybe it was pride, or maybe it was something just like you’ve felt during other great moments of fandom in your life.
Admit it, you really wanted us to beat Ghana. We’d have had a fighting chance against Uruguay or South Korea, and if we’d have gotten to the semifinals, who knows? At the very least, it would’ve been a hell of a ride there.
I think you wanted it. I think you came into the World Cup without even considering the possibility that you’d invest in it emotionally, and then you did.
Do you know what that means?
It means that you could like soccer.
If this World Cup has convinced me of anything, it’s that the general sports-watching American public can enjoy soccer. It’s not a boring game. It’s not too low-scoring. It is not unmanly or un-American. It’s a fine sport, as enjoyable as football, baseball, basketball or anything else.
By and large — and I realize I’m painting with a pretty broad brush here — I think the United States has failed to embrace soccer because we never felt like we were any good at it. If you can’t win, why play, right? Let other countries fight over the silly little game where you aren’t allowed to use your hands. We’ll stick to things we invented and can dominate.
But we’re decent now, and that changes things. We’re not a pushover for a single team in the world. Not for England, not for Brazil, not for France, Italy, Holland, Argentina or anyone else.
No one’s saying we’re as good as those countries, of course, and we might never be. But we can compete. We can envision a day where our name can fit in right alongside anyone mentioned in the previous paragraph.
I think, over the last two weeks, you’ve found that that idea appeals to you. If we can compete at soccer — if we can have moments like Dempsey’s goal against England, the furious comeback against Slovenia, and the glorious release of joy against Algeria — then yes, this game is just fine. It is perfectly enjoyable and exciting.
On top of that, soccer offers a bonus that almost no other sport can: the chance to support an underdog on an international level. Even if the future of US Soccer reaches the most optimistic of projections, we’re still going to be viewed as underdogs for a long, long time. And well beyond that day, if it ever comes, the traditional European soccer powerhouses will still be looking down on us. Not even our awesome steroids can help us here. We’re fighting an uphill battle for a long, long time.
If you like what you’ve seen over the past two weeks, I encourage you: Stick around for a while. Not just for the World Cup, but for European club soccer, for the MLS, and for local high school and college soccer. Give it a chance. Breathe it in for a bit, and see how it makes you feel.
Support breeds success, success breeds more support, rinse, repeat, and the next thing you know, we’re a much stronger soccer nation because of it. And the next time we play England, we don’t celebrate a tie. We bend them over, and we jam it in.
You can like this game. You know damn well that you can.