Although the United States’ depressing defeat at the hands of the pesky Ghanaians was deflating on many levels, perhaps the biggest was that the loss halted the traction soccer was finally gaining among Americans.
For the past decade, socceristas have condescendingly tried to explain to non-soccer followers that they simply don’t “understand” the beauty of the world’s game.
Others have suggested any number of explanations for soccer’s lack of popularity in the states—the low scores, the lack of statistics, the slow pace of the games, and even the simple fact that Americans like sports where hands are an acceptable tool.
And, frankly, those all probably do play a role for different people.
When you try and compare soccer to the other sports that Americans do embrace—football, basketball, baseball—those are the obvious differences that emerge.
There’s more contact, more scoring, and thus, more fans.
But then again, both baseball and football present slower tempos than soccer.
Both baseball and hockey feature similar low scores.
And, come on, Americans freaking love NASCAR, and that’s just cars going in circles.
No, all of these theories miss the point.
The simple reason that the U.S. has yet to grow smitten with soccer is that we aren’t very good at it—or at least we haven’t been up to this point.
The one common thread that ties together all the other sports that we get into is that the U.S. is the preeminent country in them.
The NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, NASCAR, and the PGA all share that they are the elite league in the world in their respective sport.
By contrast, the MLS is a second-tier association.
Therefore, the Americans resent the sport.
As the U.S. captivated the country with a dramatic advancement into knockout play, however, more and more people started paying attention.
Furthermore, we love our greats.
From Babe Ruth to Johnny Unitas to Michael Jordan, we adore exceptional talents, and those talents are what young children aspire and practice to become.
Until now, the face of American soccer has been nothing but mediocre.
Sure, we tried to import it in the ‘70s in the form of Pele, but that was a hollow attempt.
Finally, in the form of Landon Donovan, the country had a skilled leader in soccer that fans could fall in love with.
This is why soccer is quickly ascending the American sporting ranks.
Success, and the faces that represent it, is what the game needs to become popularized in the U.S.
In the end, it isn’t about understanding the game or needing more elaborate statistics to compare—it is only about winning.
So while the loss to Ghana may stunt the sport’s growth for the moment, if in 2014 in Brazil the U.S. can continue winning, a growing legion of fans will surely result.