US Soccer and the Casual Fan


I shouldn’t be this mad.
This mad is reserved for your team getting swept in the Stanley Cup Finals when they’re clear favorites. It’s reserved for Ronde f***ing Barber and for David goddamn Freese, for Curtis Enis and Joe Jurevicious, for puking in the Super Bowl. This is the hurt of sports. The feeling where something you’ve invested in comes back and gives you a good old fashioned stomach punch. I love sports. But sometimes, they suck.
Sports are the ultimate uniter. Throngs of people who don’t know each other, don’t care about each other, don’t like soccer and are casual sports fans all come together every four years for the World Cup. It’s a great thing- a vast majority of the people i talk to who don’t give a damn about the world’s game all suddenly become interested when national pride is at stake. The World Cup, much like the Olympics, make united fans out of us all- because we have a common goal, and a common enemy.
I usually shun the jingoistic. Shaming people due to what “the founding fathers would have done” or attempting to trick people into liking something because your commercial has the troops in it (I’m looking at you, Bank of America) rubs me the wrong way. It is self serving, shameless and cold hearted at its root; you can’t make me enjoy your idea, show or product simply because it’s a good idea, show or product. No, that would be too simple. So you try to rouse my interest in ‘MURRRCA to shill your goods? To me, that’s backwards and deceitful. But it works for sports, for reasons I will explain shortly. And it raises interest in a sport that, by all means, should already be popular in this country. So in this regard, I don’t mind it.
Ask any baby boomer what they think about hockey. Unless you live in the northeast, you’ll usually hear some nonsense about how it’s a Canadian sport that nobody cares about, with goons beating each other up and how “WAAAH I CAN’T SEE THE PUCK ON TV.” But ask that same person about the Miracle on Ice? You’ll be regaled with tales about beating those dirty commies and how the USA is just the epitome of heart and greatness. The sport gave them a reason to get together and become one, putting aside petty differences like politics and regions.
That’s what this World Cup has done, to a lesser extent. You get the fan who only watches every four years, who decides that this sport is kind of lame but they can get behind their country, and thinks that suddenly, they’ve become experts because they’ve watched for two weeks.
Therein lies the problem, at least for me.
For the better part of the last decade, I’ve watched nearly every qualifying and friendly match the United States has played. I’ve taken an interest in the better European leagues (PL, La Liga, Bundesliga), as well as MLS, and watched most of the participants of the 2014 World Cup at the club level. This is not to feel superior; obviously, watching more soccer does not make me a better overall person than the average American sitting next to me. It does, however, give me a better perspective on the sport.
Do you know how many times random people have told me that Michael Bradley sucks? That he should be benched? It’s astounding. I’ve said the same thing to every person who has brought it up: that while he had a poor World Cup, he was the United States best player in qualifying. He played and did well enough in Serie A at Roma and in international matches to earn that spot on the team. The only way that the USMNT was going to advance in the tournament was if Bradley found his form, and he wasn’t going to find it on the bench. It became infuriating. You don’t bench your quarterback when he throws a pick, especially when he’s been great the rest of the season. And most of the idiots trashing Bradley HADN’T WATCHED any of the qualifying. There were stooges on sports talk radio who spend their days killing LeBron and Peyton Manning trying to tell the public Bradley was god awful and should be benched after watching him play three times. Three times!
Oh, and who was instrumental in the build up to Julian Green’s goal vs. Belgium? Michael Bradley.
The Bradley issue aside, the USA was bossed around by Belgium for most of the match. Kevin de Bruyne, who Jose Mourinho unceremoniously shipped out of the Chelsea lineup, was a monster. Vincent Kompany was his usual rock solid self, and Fellani and Mirallas worked hard and kept the USA running the whole match.
But DeAndre Yedlin did a good job with the best outfield player on the pitch, Eden Hazard. And Tim howard was world class. The USA got pushed around a little, but stood their ground for the most part. They struck fast on the counter, and had most of the chances from the 85th minute on. It was a good, solid defensive performance at least. As Tim Howard made save after save, you just had the feeling that the USMNT was just going to nick that one that would push them through, against all odds.
Then came the 93rd minute, when Chris Wondolowski missed that sitter that would have been the most famous goal in our country’s history. For the average casual fan, it hurt. Just a little.
But they weren’t there when there was a savage debate whether or not the man deserved a spot on the roster. Whether an unathletic, career- MLS poacher should get a place in the World Cup for the United States. He scores a ton for the Earthquakes, but is not cut out for international football, most said.
But, improbably, there he was.
In a deadlocked match, with the ball at his feet, in the final minute of stoppage time versus a European power in the knockout stages of the World Cup.
And he made a complete mess of it.
But there was hope, we all thought. Then De Bruyne made a stunning turn in the box and went low on the seemingly invincible Tim Howard. Shortly afterwards, Romelu Lukaku did his best Drogba impression after being relegated to the bench for the majority of the match. It all seemed over.
Miraculously, the last player picked for the team, the youngest man on the US squad. whom everyone assumed took the place of the best player in US history (Donovan) on the roster came on and scored from a beautiful threaded ball by Bradley.
For me, there was flashbacks of the USĀ  defeating Spain in the Confederations Cup, of finally beating Mexico at the Azteca, of Landon versus Algeria, of a 9 man USA holding the eventual Cup winners Italy in ’06, of Clint Dempsey in the snow versus Costa Rica. To the casual fan, it was probably just “I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!”, or “USA USA USA USA!” Fun, but not necessarily rewarding.
Then captain Clint scuffed a chance on a stupendous set piece. Suddenly, it was Brazil in the Confed Cup Final, Giovani Dos Santos in the Gold Cup Final, and Ghana and Ghana again.
When the whistle blew, it was a heartbreaker. To have the chances, to waste a superhuman effort from Howard, to trivialze the efforts of all the young men (Yedlin, Cameron and Gonzalez) and veterans (Beasley, Bradley and Dempsey) who were doing everything they could to bring down a “superior” European power was crushing.
I suppose you can only be crushed by something if you have a feeling of ownership. That’s why we all get mad when our favorite teams lose-it’s the same reason we’re pleased when they win. There is no more hollow a happiness than supporting a squad only when they’re victorious.
Sadly, the prevailing attitude of the American public is a resounding “Eh.” Lots of congratulations, lots of “good efforts,” lots of blame and finger pointing.
“That was fun. Now back to not caring about soccer. Call me back in four years.”
And this, America, is why we will never win anything as currently constructed. More people need to care between World Cups, not just during them. The European and South Americans put more time in the training, education, support, coaching and infrastructure.
Do you know what the impetus for those things is? Fan support. So try to take some time to give a damn BEFORE four years from now.
Or you can go ahead and complain next time when we don’t win again.