World Cup Fever

No sporting event in the USA has the appeal that the World Cup does. The Olympics might come close in terms of excitement and viewership, but for me, the Olympics just don’t excite me. Unfortunately soccer, as it is known here in the states really suffers because of the more well known and rooted sports such as football [American style], baseball and basketball. Youth soccer seems is where the excitement is when you are young. “Today, AYSO has more than 50,000 teams and more than 650,000 players” (source). But between the time kids learn the sport and grow up, the fun and excitement wear off for many.

As a youth I grew up playing soccer in AYSO, along with baseball and football. I believe I even suffered through one season of basketball. My parents were heavily involved, coaching, organizing and supporting myself and sister through many seasons. I took my interest in the sport to high school and while I was only able to successfully make one team, I continued playing organized soccer outside of high school until age 17. After my freshman year in college at BYU in Provo, Utah I tried out for the team and made the squad as a back up goalkeeper [2 years in a row]. I never had aspirations to play the sport professionally, but enjoyed the many years I played

The USA has seen outdoor and indoor leagues come go; American Soccer League [1933-83, 1988-1989], Continental Indoor Soccer League [1993-1997], Major Soccer League [1978-1992], North American Soccer League [1968-1984], World Indoor Soccer League [1998-2001] and the United Soccer League [1984-1985]. By far the most popular league was the North American Soccer League [NASL]. “The biggest club in the league and the organization’s bellwether was the New York Cosmos, who drew upwards (while aging Brazillian superstar Pelé played for them) of 40,000 fans per game at their height. However, the overall average attendance of the league never reached 15,000.”

The league has challenges, such as selling the game of soccer to Americans, known as “football” to fans worldwide. The rules of the game were “Americanized” in an attempt to make it more exciting and comprehensible to the average fan. “These changes included a clock that counted time down to zero as was typical of other timed American sports, rather than upwards to 45 minutes as was traditional, a 35 yard line for offsides rather than the traditional half way line, and a shootout to decide matches that ended in a draw.”

Many big name foreign players were brought in, but were frequently left on the bench for lesser known American players. But the main reason behind the demise of the NASL was over expansion [hockey, basketball and baseball are you listening?]. This caused the talent pool to decline spread out over 24 teams. Many new owners were quick to get out, when the popularity started to decline because they were not “soccer people.”

The World Cup is truly one of the events that needs to be experienced, in a country outside the USA [1994]. Sorry USA, you just can’t host the event to a level of a Germany [2006], France [1938, 1998], Italy [1934, 1990] or England [1966], just to name a few. The game is unique that is brings about the best on a world stage for one month and pits nation against nation. I have seriously caught World Cup fever this year, as to years past. Even more so than in 1994 when it was in the USA.

If you have not caught any of the games, I suggest you check out the highlight videos at the FIFA World Cup web site. I know many Americans don’t like the game because it is slow and there is not much scoring. Some great games yesterday as Saudia Arabia and Tunisia had a final score of 2-2, with Tunisia scoring with Radi Jaidi scoring at the 92′ mark [into stoppage time] to draw even. Very exciting. Even more exciting was the following match featuring host’s, Germany versus Poland, who have never beaten Germany in 85 years. At the 91′ minute, Oliver Neuville found the lower corner of the net as Germany won! Simply amazing footie yesterday!

These start time work out well too, because I get off work, drive home and spend the next 6 hours watching footie. I don’t recall when I spent so much time in front of the television! Surely is was not for the Superbowl, World Series or even the Olympics [zzz]. Saturday is a big day, match 25! Italy takes on the USA in Kaiserslautern at 21CET/15EST/12PST. Being a huge Italia fan, I look for the Azzurri to shut out the Americans who will fall again and fail to move on to the second round.