Now that the U.S. is eliminated, perhaps we can put the World Cup in perspective.
For weeks, I’ve been reading and hearing critics who have derided the competition for the relative lack of scoring, which only proves their ignorance of the sport.
Those who thought American success in the competition would mean soccer would become a major force in our sports world are equally deluded. Soccer is in much the same position now as track and field. Every four years, when the Olympics come around, track is a big event for Americans. It will be the same for Americans and the World Cup.
In countries where soccer is king, people are consumed by it year-round. My wife and I traveled earlier this year to the southern half of South America, where everybody was talking World Cup.
In Uruguay, our tour guide told us their new soccer stadium had been partially financed by Coca Cola, but the company had to change the colors on its cans to black and white, because red is the color for Argentina’s teams.
Only at Raiders games, where a fan risks his life by wearing an opposing team’s jersey, do you get that kind of partisanship.
I became close to the American soccer scene in the early ’80s when, in addition to writing occasional newspaper columns, I did color commentary for radio and TV accounts of San Jose Earthquakes games.
That was probably the equivalent of Double-A baseball, but I did get a glimpse of what could be in one game when English star George Best, though at the end of his career, weaved his way through every defender to score a goal.
It wasn’t until 1994, though, when the World Cup was played in the U.S., with quarterfinals matches at Stanford, that I saw the best and marveled at the athletic ability of the players.
At that time, I was interviewed on a show which was televised in Australia. The host noted that, in the countries that are crazy about soccer, kids play the game on their own in the streets. In the United States, it’s a suburban game, with “soccer moms” taking their kids to games. It’s a passion for those who play on their own, just a diversion for Americans.
That jibed with my own experience. On a trip to Paris, we saw preschoolers taking a ball of yarn and kicking it as if it were a soccer ball.
Not too different from my own experience with a different sport, baseball. I often played in the streets with a ball whose cover had been knocked off and replaced with tape. I didn’t play beyond high school, but I developed a lifelong love affair with baseball.
My son, whose asthma prevented him from playing team sports, thinks baseball is a bore. One time, when I tried to explain how a 13-pitch at-bat that ended with a walk started a game-winning rally for the Giants, he said, “But nothing happened.”
It’s all what you’ve grown up with. I’d advise Americans to watch if they want and enjoy the competition — or ignore it, if that’s what they want. But don’t think you’re superior if you deride it.