Has soccer become the national pastime?

"You Gotta Be Kidding!"
by Mickey Charles CEO, The Sports Network

Philadlephia, PA (Sports Network) -- Not quite. And it might never happen in our lifetimes. But, for now, all eyes were focused on the World Cup and Chonju, South Korea (that is #12 on your neighborhood menu) where the U.S. shocked the civilized and uncivilized patrons and fans of international soccer with a 2-0 victory over Mexico to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time sine 1930. For global futbol the world relished the thought that the Americans were usually gone early on. It was a stage where the most powerful country on the planet was treated like it was a Third World nation trying to make its way out of the locker room and having difficulty doing it.

Landon Donovan
Everyone is watching the U.S. team right now and it is laden with heroes in the making, such as its 20-year-old goal-scoring leader, Landon Donovan.
Talk about instant elimination in a March Madness pairing. Of the top five teams in the current world standings only one, Brazil, is still in the competition. Exit visas have been issued to all the others.

Waiting for the boys in red, white and blue are the Germans, three-time World Cup champions. The other countries don't like it but they have to grudgingly accept it. We are still alive and well. Bruce Arena, the team's coach, is a Brooklyn boy who played lacrosse as a youngster (nobody in Flatbush played lacrosse!) in a city where stickball, handball, stoopball, touch football and schoolyard three-on-three was the order of the day.

Everyone is watching the U.S. team right now and it is laden with heroes in the making, such as its 20-year-old goal-scoring leader, Landon Donovan. He is not Kobe Bryant, Sammy Sosa, Donovan McNabb or Brett Hull. The rest of the world thinks that we sleep with baseballs, basketballs, footballs and hockey sticks and that "Take me out to the ballgame" is the real national anthem.

How they resent us. They begrudge us our success and cringe at the thought of our besting them at what they believe to be their game. We are still the Colonies to many of them and football, our brand of it, is barbaric compared to thousands of their fans storming out of the stands to literally kill a referee or two. Give me a break! What am I missing here?

The problem for the rest of the world is that we are finally taking soccer seriously. Teenagers are leaving high school as though they were headed for the NBA but, instead, are off to Europe and the rich leagues there. The U.S. Soccer Federation is doing what it can to copy the club system of foreign leagues by putting top 16-year olds in a residency program in Florida.

In 1996, Major League Soccer was up and running, the first major outdoor U.S. professional league since the disappearance of the North American Soccer League in 1985. Donovan is a current MLS player, as is Brian McBride.

The Germans expect to win. They are planning on it. They are celebrating it preliminarily and think that the U.S. as an opponent is just another "W" on their way to the finals. Derailment of that is not an impossible dream. Losing to the Americans is now considered a blemish on one's record. This is not supposed to be. The traditional world order is falling like so many snowflakes on Lake Placid. Friday's game, at 7:30 a.m. ET, is in Ulsan, South Korea, #14 on the menu listing.

Let's not lose sight of the fact that the Germans struggled against Paraguay, winning 1-0 on a goal in the 88th minute, and have been eliminated in the quarterfinals of the last two World Cups by upstart teams, Bulgaria and Croatia. The fat lady has not begun to sing, not even to warm up and crow is very tasty at this time of the year.

Brian McBride
U.S. forward Brian McBride has two goals [through the game versus Mexico] in the 2002 World Cup.
The given day just might be Friday, June 21st, when any team can beat another. There will be flag-waving American fans in the stands and they will be chanting that "The Yanks Are Coming!" Of that you can be certain. And, there will be cheering in offices and homes around the country. Breakfast at Wimbledon is yesterday's news. It is now breakfast in Ulsan. The U.S. squad remembers '98 when they lost all three of their matches to finish last among 32 entries. That served to inspire their first World Cup shutout since 1950 against Mexico earlier this week.

There are injuries, fatigue and suspensions but they persevere. They are crossing the Rockies headed to the west coast. The Indians will not deter them. Their covered wagons are battered and worn by the elements. The Cavalry is late in arriving. Three matches in nine days and not a water hole in sight. Ingenuity has been factored into the equation and the Americans are playing the way they want to, not the way the game has dictated play for decades.

Goalkeeper Brad Friedel is energized, enlivened and thinks he is Sly Stallone in that German POW camp. He and his teammates will come out firing on Friday and, win or lose, they have brought new respect around the globe for American soccer. A win will have everyone scratching his or her heads from Berlin to Rome. Are we now the team to beat, the kids with destiny on their side?

It might never become the sport that is our national pastime but have our guys done us proud and given it their all, the American way? You gotta be kidding!

The Sports Network, a STATS Company. All Rights Reserved.  home | terms of use | privacy policy | comments | SportsNetworkdata.com