This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.
Americans are huge football fans. Now, thanks to World Cup fever, many of them are huge fans of football – in the way the rest of the world uses the word.
From bars in the Deep South to offices in the South Sound, from the West Wing to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Americans are catching on to the excitement surrounding the World Cup being played in South Africa. Even games that end in 1-1 ties.
It helps that the American team is doing so well, winning their World Cup group for the first time since the tournament began in 1930. On Saturday the Americans play Ghana, the team that knocked them out four years ago, in hopes of advancing to the quarterfinals.
The Americans have been playing with real heart, scoring in the final minutes and overcoming puzzling calls that disallowed two goals. Even normally disengaged viewers couldn’t avoid getting caught up in the celebration over Landon Donovan’s winning goal against Algeria Wednesday – made just minutes before the U.S. would have been eliminated from the tournament.
It was the kind of moment that long-suffering U.S. soccer fans have dreamed of – and one that might signal a turning point in this country’s attitude to the world’s most popular game.
For many Americans, what’s exciting about World Cup competition is that the U.S. team isn’t the odds-on favorite. While it’s respectably ranked (No 14),
its profile is a far cry from, say, that of the U.S. Olympic basketball team, which was composed of NBA stars like LeBron James. Some of that team’s games seemed akin to the New York Yankees playing against Little Leaguers.
In soccer, the United States isn’t so favored. In countries that live and breathe the sport, the best athletes play soccer. Not so here. They’re more likely to go into basketball or football, where the big money is.
In the Northwest, which has a solid professional team in the Sounders FC, soccer mania is understandable. What’s exciting is that the rest of the country is starting to catch on, too.
So break out the vuvuzelas. And go, Team USA.