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Discussion Starter #1
It Takes Balls To Play Soccer In America
by Keith Duggan
Written by Keith Duggan/Sideline Cut for The Irish Times

17/04/02: Is this really the US in Lansdowne Road tonight? Oh, they speak in American accents, and if the Star Spangled Banner is played watch them sing with fervour.

And they do have names like Clint and Bruce and Brad. And they are among the best American soccer players alive and on earth at this time.

But nothing, not the Federal Reserve or the revered words of the Constitution or Hollywood can save these visitors from the worst crime in the American sporting lexicon: ordinariness.

The US are decent right now, wringing a 1-0 win over Mexico and losing but still scoring two on German soil, no easy feat. They regularly turn up at World Cups, and, despite the chronic performances in the Coupe du Monde four years ago, they are competent and driven under Bruce Arena and should pose an awkward proposition for their more illustrious group opponents in Korea.

Tonight, they will strive to do the same before probably falling to a goal from typically obscure Irish origins - a Harte free or a bullet from Matt Holland or a Kilbane half-volley. They will be disappointed because they are genuinely ambitious and their World Cup ambitions mirror our own; a passage to the second round, with anything after a bonus.

But while such modest aims make sense here in Ireland - with a population the equivalent of a small US city and our thriving domestic amateur games absorbing many of the top athletes and a small, brave soccer league and our tradition for celebrating with justifiable pride all discernible international sporting achievements - they just don't wash in America.

Winning is what the US understands, be it knocking down the big prize at the coconut stall or bringing back the funny gold soccer trophy that the rest of the world so covets.

There has been a mutual breakdown between the US and the rest of the world when it comes to understanding soccer, and the players who visit Lansdowne Road this evening are brave pioneers in a way. They are bred in a fiercely competitive sporting culture, and as athletes they genuinely cultivate that through their efforts. But deep down they know that the very best they might do, the pinnacle of their realisations, will be met back home with a polite applause that is tantamount to indifference.

Veteran Jeff Agoos admitted as much yesterday when he observed that America has failed to channel its best athletes towards the global game because basketball, baseball and gridiron football are such relentless suctions. He used Michael Jordan as an example of soccer's loss.

And imagine Jordan, with his preternatural athleticism and vision as, say, a goalkeeper. Or Shaquille O'Neal as a traditional centre forward in the Niall Quinn mode.

It is fantastic, of course, but still. Imagine if America were serious about soccer, with its 250 million population and phenomenal sports funds and facilities and organisational acumen. And cheerleaders.

How come soccer didn't take off in the most sports-crazed mass of land on the planet? It's not as if the US doesn't have its own soccer history. Hybrid versions of the game were played in Boston as far back as 1860, and the first official club, Oneida, was formed in the city two years later. The USFA came into being just nine years after the establishment of FIFA (1904). And in the 1920s, attendance figures at soccer games were paralleling those of the NFL at about 10,000 per match.

Immigrants were arriving in sufficient numbers to transplant the soul or essence of the game onto their adopted landscape. Established English and Scottish players like Tony Martin and Tex White (from Motherwell) were lured to expansion clubs like the Fall River Marksmen. And in 1926, Sparta Prague toured the country and drew a crowd of 46,000 to the Polo Grounds, a figure that remained a record until Pele joined the New York Cosmos in the mid 1970s.

And the US have had their shimmering passages of World Cup glory, their own Giants Stadium, like the 1-0 defeat of England at the 1950 World Cup.

In the 1970s, America seemed to embark on a brief love affair with soccer with the burgeoning ambition of the NASL, but with no television franchise and a renegade approach to affiliating players which alienated it from FIFA, the end result was one of bankruptcy and a critical relapse.

The 1980s were the bleakest time for American soccer aficionados with a two-year period ('86-'88) without a competitive international fixture.

Although America is all consumed by its native sports, that hasn't seemed to stop its glowering presence in other arenas. Tiger Woods has transformed golf. America doesn't seem to care much for cycling but can still produce a Greg LeMond or Lance Armstrong every generation. It does not care much for tennis, but gave the world the sport's definitive genius in John McEnroe and it's ultimate winner in Pete Sampras (until Venus Williams eclipses him). America's apathy towards the US track and field trials did not prevent another exhaustive gold sweep at the Sydney Olympic Games.

And yet nothing but ordinariness when it comes to soccer. Endless arguments have been made about how soccer is too stilted to capture the American imagination, too negative and strategic to engage a psyche that requires fast motion and instant result and definite, crashing contact. And there is a sense that in mainstream American culture, soccer is seen as an essentially feminine pursuit. A soccer mom activity. The picture of the shirtless Brandi Chastain, celebrating à la Ravanelli her World Cup goal in 1999 is the ultimate iconoclastic image in US soccer history. And that event, with 76,000 showing up for the final, genuinely shifted the boundaries in terms of how the US depicted its female sports stars.

So the 11 men who start for the US in Lansdowne Road tonight are mavericks, having fallen into soccer through myriad circumstances and who won't ever get to Be Like Mike. But that is bound to change. Sooner or later America will get its act together and get bored of winning its private World Series and Super Bowls. It will yearn to kick the world's butt, even if it is at a girlish game that kind of sucks.

Tonight, though, the superpower's representatives will be our whipping boys, and if Robbie scores and cartwheels and does his flaming arrow thing, that's the closest our visitors will come to the rare zephyrs of sporting idolatry. That feeling of being loved - and more importantly needed - by your own.

But they are all the more courageous for that. And really, hand on heart, of the two countries playing, which one do you think is likely to win the World Cup first?

*We thank the editors of Irish-Times for there permission to allow this article to be reprinted here. http:www.irish-times.com
Articles are the expressed opinions of the writers and not of Sam's Army® .

Discussion Starter #4
I agree 100% I would love to find out a way to reach the wiriter and send him a letter or something , It would be great if we all came up with a way to do it !!!

674 Posts
Trans-Oceanic Thanks


I e-mailed the editorial staff of the Irish Times and thanked them for letting Sam'sArmy link to their material. I complimented them on their article and conferred my thanks to the sports writer.

The way I did it was just to go back to their link and then work my way through there menus. There was finally one that said comments/suggestions or some such. I hope they received it.

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