Thursday, June 15, 2006

A liberal looks at the World Cup

I guess I'm a typical American sports fan, albeit a liberal one. Football, baseball, the major golf tournaments, college hoops during March Madness, the occasional auto race, the Olympics. That's more than enough to occupy my time from season to season. Like most Americans, I don't follow soccer, save for every four years when the World Cup penetrates my consciousness.

But after six years of the Dim Son administration, the world looks at America differently, and the World Cup serves as the lens which most closely approximates how they see us.

This is not baseball, where our "World Series" ignores Latin America, Japan, and other countries where baseball is played, and played well. It's not American football, beloved at home, but widely ignored the world over. It's not even the Olympics, where we field a team in every event, and our sheer force of numbers guarantees us a spot high in the medal standings.

No, this is soccer. The world's game, open to all comers if you can cut the mustard. A game in which wee Togo and tiny Trinidad y Tobago can make the cut, but Russia and Canada cannot. In other words, it's a meritocracy. It's not the G7, or the UN, where America's seat at the table is assumed and assured. The mighty USA has to get into the World Cup the old fashioned way...we have to eaarrrn it. And in recent years, we have done so. We've qualified, but little more. And then we've trotted out a string of excuses, redolent of sour grapes. "Our best athletes play football and basketball." "Soccer is a sissy game." "We just aren't that interested in soccer."

To all of which I call "bullshit."

We went to the fuckin' moon! Are you telling me we can't chase a ball around and kick it into a net the size of a two car garage? Well, actually, we can't. And todo del mundo knows it. We're the 1990 Yankees...67 wins, 95 losses and 21 games out of first place. We're Gulliver, bound, poked and prodded by Liliputians. We're terribly, terribly average.

There is a parallel between our World Cup performance and our recent performance in other areas of global discourse. We no longer enjoy the presumption of perfection. Our motives are no longer assumed to be noble. There is some serious question as to whether we can cut the international mustard. Diplomatically, we have to play our way in to the tournament.

Once we led the world against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Once we played pot-limit nuclear poker with the Soviet Union, and the other guy blinked, then folded. Now, weakened at home and abroad by the reckless policies of the Bush Administration, we are reduced to leading a piss-poor "coalition of the willing" (Eritrea, Estonia, Latvia, Uzbeckistan) in a failing occupation of an already weakened Iraq. And we stand, like Ozymandias bestride the goal, while the Czech Republic scores three times between our vast and trunkless legs of stone.


  • Everybody's talking about the World Cup. Goodluck to your favorite teams!

    By Blogger j, at 8:46 PM  

  • Jesus. I play the Shelley card, and I get spam. A perfectly good liberal arts education, shot all to hell.

    By Blogger roxtar, at 9:03 PM  

  • Hey, I dated PBS! He was my lover. ahahahah.

    By Blogger La bella italiana, at 7:33 AM  

  • Well, Rocky, spam seems most appropriately absurd after that nice piece.

    The US can create sports markets when they don't already exist. Soccer is not only a demand-side problem. It's that you can't advertiser over two 45-minute periods, while American football and basketball are built for advertising, even having "official timeouts."

    By Blogger helmut, at 10:15 AM  

  • The whole *World* Series thing has bothered me for ages. Same for football -- with all of the Super Bowl winners shouting about how they're "world" champs.

    By Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas, at 9:42 AM  

  • I've been trying to catch some World Cup games precisely because they're different. It seems far more authentic than the NFL and NASCAR.

    Guys will be kicking balls around long after "our" sports are forgotten.

    By Blogger Kevin Wolf, at 11:15 AM  

  • You know, as a tonic for American exceptionalism the World Cup is a gas. Furthermore the U.S. side played a fine, gritty match against the calcio gods of Italy on Saturday. This is how we get integrated with the rest of the world.

    My only beef with soccer is that it is yet another sport where, like basketball, players who know better will sometimes pass instead of taking shots. It is aggravating to say the least. Such timidity while in the hotseat is utterly foreign to baseball.

    By Blogger Will Divide, at 5:24 PM  

  • Well, Will, I assume you're willing to overlook the called 3rd strike. Or as beloved former Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell used to say, "He stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched it go by..."

    By Blogger roxtar, at 8:41 AM  

  • Yeah, Will, I'd also have to take exception with that. Goals are very hard to come by in the first place. But compare the number of crazy attempts on goal to the number of times a player appears to have the shot and passes.

    I used to play both soccer and baseball - both growing up as a kid too - and I'd have to say that soccer has little truck with timidity. Try standing in front of a ball coming at your private bits at 100mph, or sticking your head into an area where cleats are flying around, or even constantly running up and down the field for 90 minutes.

    When it comes, a goal can be a thing of beauty. It has to be manufactured usually, and mistakes can be made in the manufacturing given that the process is often high-speed, relies on unspoken and intuitive teamwork, and can be a matter of threading several defensive needles each time reducing the odds of success at reaching the goal. The moment of the shot is hardly ever clear, so there's almost always the temptation (given the relative rarity of goals) to make one more pass for the clearer shot - it's a high-speed decision, unlike nothing in baseball. And, in the end, if an opportunity was passed up to give the ball to your teammate who does make the goal, that's an overlooked sign of solidarity. An expression of the team itself.

    Anyway, baseball and soccer are completely different games. But they're both beautiful.

    By Blogger helmut, at 11:28 AM  

  • "unlike anything in baseball"....

    By Blogger helmut, at 11:29 AM  

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