There will be plenty of time to examine the Xs and Os of the U.S. National Team's downfall against Ghana in the Round of 16 (not here... we don't do that) and to begin the debate over the next coach of the Yanks (also not here.... we don't like fights), but in the immediate aftermath of the Americans' exit from the 2010 World Cup one thing is crystal clear; the United States of America is a nation of soccer fans.
Now we're not quite a "soccer nation" yet. That's an important distinction. In fact it's certainly possible that we never become a soccer nation (and that's fine really... just like we're not a baseball nation or football nation). But this South African odyssey for the Americans has proven that their fellow countrymen have the stomach (and nerves) to support eleven men kicking a ball about.
The YouTubes of celebrations around the nation, the massive ratings for all the U.S. group games and the match against Ghana (19 million viewers on ABC and Univision), plus the dedicated following the Nats brought to South Africa (we think an under-reported angle) proves that there is strong (and growing) following for soccer in this nation. The key understanding is that soccer is ALREADY big in the United States. Those looking for the "it" moment don't know what they're looking for because it has already happened (Jason Davis at MatchFitUSA examined something similar a few weeks back.).
Soccer fans have been living in the shadows for quite some time now and in 2010 the sun shown brightly upon them. For the better part of the last decade and a half we've been building our ranks whether nationally through supporter's groups like Sam's Army, the American Outlaws, locally with our Major League Soccer franchises, or internationally as fans wrest themselves from their slumber on Saturdays and Sunday mornings using our TVs and computers to slash the distance between them and their European clubs.
In light of the National Team's elimination from the World Cup the naysayers will, of course, have their day, but unlike the previous decade of "soccer will never become big in the United States" or "soccer is boring" cookie-cutter columns they will have to frame their arguments in a much different way. Probably a task too big for most of these dinosaurs, but a guy can wish. I won't get my hopes up though.
Honestly (without turning this editorial into media criticism), the only way the traditional old media can continue their soccer bashing is by moving to goal posts (American football metaphor! Ironic, huh?) further back to discredit soccer's growth. They'll moan that soccer hasn't arrived until the MLS does X or the National Team accomplishes Y. The reality is that this argument is old, tired, and as extinct as most of their jobs will be if they don't adapt to the new storylines in sporting culture. Anti-soccer columns will continue to be written, but they'll fall farther and farther into the margins as the landscape shifts from underneath them. As soccer becomes a regular mainstay in the American consciousness they will be forced to cover this game just as any other major sport calls for coverage within their yellowing pages.
And clearly soccer is not a "boring" sport. This has never been a valid argument; only a strawman for critics to construction to lead non-soccer fans to drink the anti-soccer haterade. As a larger and larger cross-section of American is exposed to soccer (hopefully through the power of free beer!) this empty insult loses more and more validity. Low scoring matches are not devoid of action as this charge is the worse kind of "book-cover-judging" that poor sports journalism can muster up.
The efforts of our boys in red, white, and blue, the whole rest of the lot in this year's World Cup, and, yes, even our domestic league proved time and time again that, between the whistles, soccer is an action-packed, end-to-end, heart-pounding affair. To argue otherwise is to fundamentally not understand the sport of soccer; one that is predicated upon the excitement of the anticipation of scoring and the release when it does actually happen.
This World Cup was not the "it" moment of American soccer. This sport's fans have been at the front of a quiet revolution, steadily laying a foundation for when, like this summer 2010, the upward movement of this nation's team exposed the teeming, coursing, cheering support that soccer has here, exploded out of it's long-contained box and into the mainstream. It could not be kept back. It cannot be put back away.
Soccer in American is here. And it is here to stay. Get used to it.
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