World Cups: As Bad Officiating Continues, Soccer Grows in Popularity in US
One-hundred and twenty minutes into the US women's soccer game against Brazil, I was set to write a column on why America can never embrace soccer, and how the officiating and the frustration won't ever allow the country to.
Half an hour later, after the US team pulled off a miraculous turn of events to defeat Brazil in a penalty shootout, the direction of that column had changed.
Ironically, America can embrace soccer, I found, for the same reasons that it shouldn't.
We've all heard the reasons why soccer will never catch on in the US. Among others, there are four main factors.
First, there are ties. Americans want a clear-cut winner and loser, and this is one of the reasons that hockey has struggled to catch on in the US.
Second, the pace is slow and goals are few and far between. As hypocritical as this may seem since football stops for each play and baseball is about as slow-paced as a sport can get, there is still action on offense during those games, whereas in soccer, relatively nothing happens.
Third, the game isn't physical enough for Americans' likings. Soccer clearly is a physically punishing sport, much more than it may seem to the casual onlooker, but it doesn't match the physicality of football. Plus, the frequency of flops and fake injuries hurts the sport's credibility in the US.
And last, but certainly not least, the American professional players just don't have that much talent. The sport is popular for kids, but when they become old enough to play football, many of the top athletes switch sports.
For those who do star in both sports through high school, most choose to play football in college because it offers more exposure and professional opportunities. Since women's soccer doesn't have to compete with football, the US women's national team has been much more successful.
However, one thing trumps all of those reasons, and that's patriotism.
It's the reason why so many Americans who couldn't name a single player on the national team were on the edge of their seats this afternoon. It's the reason why people who have never played soccer in their life sat down for nearly three hours to watch a game.
Americans love an underdog story. They love teams that overcome all adversity and work hard to reach the top. After all, that's what this country has been built on from the beginning.
"I think that [the win over Brazil] is a perfect example of what this country is about, what the history of this team has been. We literally went to the last second, it seems," US striker Abby Wambach said.
That's as American as it gets.
It's ironic, however, that in the ensuing celebration and sudden American love for the Women's World Cup, many Americans were ready to write off soccer, once again, as an un-American sport.
After a number of terrible calls (and non-calls) against the US, many were ready to shut off their TVs, claiming that an American sport wouldn't be that unjust.
However, because the US got the win, soccer has become a sudden conversation piece in this country. If this were a 2-0 win, hardly anybody in the country would have noticed. However, because the US had to come from behind and prove their resiliency, soccer will grab the front page of nearly every sports section in the country tomorrow.
The same thing happened last year in the men's world cup. After enduring several bad calls in the group stage, the US men overcame adversity to win their group. And as a result, Americans, soccer fanatics and football fanatics alike, banded together to cheer for their team.
A comfortable win over a top European country doesn't excite American sports fans. A miraculous, overtime win that's filled with controversy, regardless of the opponent, will excite the entire country.
Bad officiating is good for American soccer. It gives the team a chance to prove it can overcome adversity, and it gives the country a reason to join together and cheer. As the adversity continues, so will the growth in popularity of American soccer.
Soccer will never reach the level of popularity in America that it has in the rest of the world. The US is short on stars and just has a different view of sports than people do overseas.
However, America will never be short on patriotism. And as long as its teams continue to overcome adversity and show the type of American attitude that they have in the last two years, soccer will no longer be a world away.
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