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Thursday, July 24, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 7/3/2014

SPORTS COMMENTARY

U.S. soccer team brought out patriotic fans

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

What was the Dodgers fans’ lament back in the Brooklyn days of ‘dem bums? There’s always next year.

Cubs’ fans still say it. In fact, it’s July and they’re already saying it.

Anyway, I ran into a soccer fan, dressed in a flag-like shirt and a red, white, and blue stovepipe hat that would have made Abe proud Tuesday evening and overheard him saying, “We’ll get ‘em in 2018.”

Based on his dress, I presumed we would be the United States, them is everybody else, and 2018 is the next World Cup.

We’ll get ‘em in 2018.

Maybe. Either way, 2018 is the next time we’ll care about soccer.

Now, wait, before you shred this page in anger, or merely proceed to the baseball standings; this isn’t a soccer-hating column. I can’t claim to be an expert, but I recognize the extraordinary effort and athleticism, pre-game rituals that may just be the best and most moving in all of sports, and a passion for the game that may be unprecedented.

But it’s not our game. And it’s not our passion. And it won’t be for another four years when, like Olympic bobsledding, we’ll wrap ourselves in the colors and scratch our patriotic itch.

After Tuesday’s 2-1 extra-time loss to Belgium a network commentator suggested that the U.S. run to the knockout round and such a glorious effort and such titanic TV ratings meant that “futbol, soccer, is forever changed in America.”

Get serious.

That was the mantra in 1999 when the U.S. women beat China for the title before a raucous, partisan 90,000 fans and Brandi Chastain celebrated by ripping off her jersey.

It was a great boon to sports bras. Soccer? Not sure about that.

The other day, my friend Tom Walton attempted to explain World Cup popularity in the U.S. His thought was that soccer fever is an oasis in a sports desert that finds the NBA and NHL seasons over, the NFL yet to rev up, and baseball sort of chugging along to a mild interest level at the midway mark of a long, hot summer.

I won’t argue. That’s part of it. If Game 7 of the World Series or a Monday night football game between the Broncos and Patriots was opposite the World Cup, the TV ratings would be more along the line of, say, pro soccer, which barely registers.

What does register is patriotism, which will find any oasis in any desert.

We are Americans and ours, we are told, is the most powerful nation on earth. We are the biggest and the baddest, and even if we’re not the best we can cheer as if we are. When we win it snowballs and suddenly thousands of fans are showing up to watch on a jumbo video board in a minor league stadium in downtown Toledo. And when we lose to a country that gave the world fancy, fluffy waffles, well, it stings. For awhile.

Truth is, as admirable as the fight, as epic as goalie Tim Howard’s 16 saves, and the remarkable fitness of the players — marathoners with the grace of small forwards and the mentality of linebackers — when it comes to the soccer and only the soccer, our top-level players haven’t caught up to the top-level talent in countries where futbol is futbol, and has been 12 months a year for decades and centuries.

The game has never truly caught on here, so our players may never truly catch up.

But maybe we’ll get ‘em in 2018.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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