Tuesday, June 13, 2006

I Have to Talk about the Czech Game More.

The ramifications of the US crashing out embarrassingly of WC06, for the future of American soccer, both club and country, are huge and potentially devastating. If the US is dissected by Italy like they were dissected by the Czechs, if they then, already eliminated and dispirited, lose to Ghana, if they go goalless, finish last – and unless somebody loses today (Tuesday 6/13) by more than three goals (and are shut out), the US is last after round one – any and all good efforts towards building soccer’s foundation in America after the run on WC02 are stymied at best, obliterated at worse.

The suits who’ve spent billions on soccer this time around aren’t going to come back if this well runs dry again. Nike and Adidas are long-termers, but we’re a couple of genocides, at least three horrific and minutely video-taped natural disasters, a presidential election and concurrent and virulent culture wars, and four more years of Lord NFL expanding it’s hegemonic tentacles into all metaphors American between this June’s WC and South Africa in 2010. That’s a boatload of Wednesday night games in crappy stadia in mosquito-humid August between Colorado and Real Salt Lake. Soccer will survive, but it won’t expand: corporate investment will stagnate and fan base expansion will stall.

Soccer is a no-go in America under the best of circumstances. Imagine if the US actually made a run to the finals: by next MLS mid-season, most of the buzz would have evaporated. I understand. I could trot out all the reasons why soccer will never be a major sport in America, but you know what they are. The hope with this WC was to solidify the base, expanding it by converting a modest percentage of casual fans into passionate fans – more season ticket holders, larger walk-up crowds – and convince investors that the viability of MLS was now somewhat better than highly speculative. Maybe get a couple of stadia built, maybe get some investment in youth development leagues, maybe jack up the salary cap in MLS a bit, maybe attract some aging washed-up but still better than the average MLS player Euro-stars to finish their career “building” soccer in America.

Not if the USMNT finishes 32nd, outscored 8-0, their coach attacking the players – and Arena called some out yesterday, including Donovan and the ever-suck Beasley. I hope I’m wrong, and in the small picture I am: MLS will survive, a mediocre league on the level with England’s League One, and I’ll get riled up when Ningland comes to RFK or Carlos Ruiz flops tearfully after a dive. There is a core of soccer fans in America, and we’re not changing our minds about the game because this USMNT sucks worse than even my not-taunting God’s worst nightmares predicted. But we’re not the ones Nike and Adidas and AIG and Budweiser were targeting.

This could all be moot should the USMNT grab wins over Italy and Ghana and then show respectfully in the knockout rounds. Making it out of group play, beating a soccer power like Italy, rebounding bravely from yesterday’s embarrassment, losing bravely to Brazil in knockout will not provide soccer a breakout in American sports consciousness, but at least it won’t set American soccer back. Grabbing a point against Italy and three against Ghana, regardless of whether that puts the US through, will at least staunch the bleeding and maintain soccer’s status quo in America.

Nothing yesterday suggests that the game will be anything other than an easy Italian victory: if the US couldn’t press the Czech defense, why should anyone believe they’ll get through the Italians? Nothing yesterday suggests they can beat Ghana. Ask yourself this: Is Eddie Pope really one of the four best defenders in the United States? Is DeMarcus Beasley really one of the best six midfielders in the United States?

More on the actual soccer later.


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