The U.S. national soccer team trains at Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, South Africa, Friday, June 11, 2010. The U.S. will play England in a soccer World Cup Group C match on Saturday.
Just because because it’s in South Africa and ESPN owns the broadcast doesn’t make soccer cool. You’ll read differently in the media because we’ve got a generation of writers who remember how much fun they had kicking that ball around for their under-12 traveling team. You’ll even hear people talking about the Cup and pretending like they care.
But I don’t care how many Blarney Stone pubs in Hell’s Kitchen have 17 flat screens tuned to soccer from opening to last call. In the bars I go to, ain’t nobody watching soccer, ain’t nobody talking about it, and ain’t nobody cares what the rest of the world is watching. We’re watching the Yankees on one screen and the Mets on the other.
I know this puts me in the minority for the first time in my life. Until this year, it was cool to not care about soccer and nerdy to think otherwise. This year, it’s uncool to ignore the Cup.
Well, screw that. Soccer is the same sport it’s always been. So I’m not running off and sitting in front of the TV and waving a flag while a national team made up of people I’ve never heard of spends 90 minutes not doing much of anything and then say what terrific fun it was.
Watching a soccer game is like watching water evaporate, except it’s not as fast-moving. One goal is a marvel. Two goals are a miracle. Three in one game are a sign that the apocalypse is upon us.
Just because the entire world plays it doesn’t mean I have to like it. If a billion Chinese and 1.2 billion Indians don’t have to care about the Super Bowl, I don’t have to care about soccer. It makes us even.
The mainstream media has climbed on board, too, probably because a new generation of writers and editors who remember having fun eating pizza after soccer games with they were 6 has taken over.
These are the people who got so excited when Beckham signed with Los Angeles that you had to throw sawdust under them. For months, Beckham and his Spice Girl wife were on the front page just about every day, because he was going to push American soccer to the next level. Remember that fantasy?
Anyway, when everybody is telling you to watch something, you tend to watch because you think everybody else is.
And this despite what mothers have been telling their kids since time immemorial whenever they whined that they had to do something because every else was doing it. “I suppose if everybody was jumping off a cliff, you would, too,” my mom used to say, and I’d assure her I wouldn’t jump. I still won’t.
Anyway, that’s what’s happening here. Fans are jumping over the soccer cliff. Until now, most Americans knew soccer is something your kids play before they’re old enough to advance to a more sensible game. I’m sorry, but any 6-4-3 double play is better than 95 percent of all soccer goals.
I’m pretty open-minded. As long as I don’t have to take my hat off, I’ll try just about anything, whether it’s food, music, literature, television or sports. It’s not like I wrote soccer off years ago and never gave it a chance.
I went with friends to watch Pele and the Cosmos win the Soccer Bowl sometime in the mid-70s. Great crowd – they packed Giants Stadium and Mick Jagger was there – and I had a wonderful time. But the game was a bore.
I went to a bunch of games when the World Cup came to America in 1994 and enjoyed watching the fans. They provide more action than the players.
Four years ago, I watched many World Cup games, including the final. I even remember Zinedine Zidane and the dumbest head-butt in the history of sports.
But as much as I watch, it still doesn’t do anything for me. The game simply isn’t exciting. It’s 20 guys standing around in the middle of the pitch trying hard to make sure nothing happens and succeeding at it.
Red Smith, a great sports columnist from an earlier time, hated basketball for some reason. He once wrote that if the NBA Finals were played in his back yard, he’d draw the blinds. Well, if the World Cup were played in my back yard, I would not lower the blinds, but only because I can sleep with them open.