So, the World Cup is over for the United States. Sure was fun while it lasted.
Everyone wearing star-spangled bandanas can get back to work and focus on the next opportunity to party and commiserate with friends, family and the spatula-wielding, flag-draped patriot next door.
Dwight Howard? Ryan Howard? Moe Howard? No, it was U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard’s inspiring performance that allowed many Americans, arm-chair pundits and members of the media to pose the inevitable and misguided question about whether soccer had finally arrived in the U.S.
From ESPN’s stellar coverage and talk radio’s airwaves, to local watch parties replete with face painters, we have been obsessed with trying to identify the precise moment soccer arrived, the seminal moment when the sport deserved mention in the same breath as America’s beautiful game (football) or national pastime (baseball).
The dirty little secret is that it has both arrived and forsaken the U.S. Drenched in 0-0 ties after regulation and complemented with more flops than the Razzie’s, soccer leaves us all to wonder and shake our heads over what to make of its future in this country.
Unfortunately, it may be Major League Soccer that is the proverbial baby thrown out with the bath water. After all, far too many want to link the stature and impact of a global cultural, political and business event, one with sport and feigned injuries as a backdrop, to the growth of soccer in the U.S. – and that remains as unfair of a connection as it would be to link the last two weeks’ ubiquitous red cups to red cards.
Belgium versus Argentina on Saturday? May as well be Stella vs. Quilmes for all of us in the U. S. Of course, we still prefer to drown in our Bud Light (a slow death to be sure).
Bring on some nobody advancing at Wimbledon (especially since there are no Americans left) or, worse yet, crank up the volume on the Coney Island hot dog eating contest. There must be a story somewhere to be ginned up. A story that binds us together to root for – or against – somebody. Just because the U.S. is out of the World Cup doesn’t mandate our nationalism has to wait until the Rio Olympics. . . . We still have reality TV, right? We can go back to keeping up with the Kardashians now that the need to keep up with the Klinsmann is over.
As World Cup TV ratings drop back to earth domestically and the handwringers take cover, let’s remember a few things. First, sports and entertainment in this country revolve around the quality of the game-day experience. Next, we – as American consumers – demand value and customer service, which is linked to the game-day experience (and the availability and quantity of cold beer for events such as the World Cup). Finally, we require a winner.
What we seemed to have missed along the way is that “we” have already “won” since soccer is ever so much closer to being an ongoing part our nation’s fabric. A fabric, or maybe a tapestry, that increasingly delivers diversity and a sense of community and cultural belonging — and almost makes up for the scoreless ties.
Oh, wait, we are now blessed with penalty kicks in the knockout round. . . . bring on the Stella or the Quilmes. . . . wait, make it Stella since Anheuser-Busch InBev controls the brand. See! We still have something to root for! U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A! Spatula not included. Face paint sold separately.