10/13/14

World Cup . . .

In June of 1994 I was a senior in high school and took a drive to Connecticut for my college orientation.

The date? June 17, 1994. It was an odd day, to say the least, but a very sports-oriented day. Following a full day of activities many of us gathered in TV Lounges to watch the games and events of the day and soccer was heavily discussed.

I knew NOTHING of soccer (we had a women's team in high school - my alma mater has since added a men's team) but I never went to any games (I only ever went to sporting events in high school when marching band, to be a statistician (for cross country and track) or friendships compelled me). I tried, very hard, to get excited about this tournament happening in these United States. It didn't work. Four years later, I tried again. Failed. When the women's World Cup (complete with historic sports bra-clad victory moment) was played DOWN THE STREET from my home in 1999, I couldn't care less. I just don't like soccer.

NO offense to the millions and millions of people (including dozens in these United States) that love the game. I get the allure. It is about strategy and patience and endurance and grace and math and physics and luck. I will readily concede that the athleticism is higher than in the average game and - since I loathe all sports - you don't need to worry that I am dismissing the game because of its (traditionally) low scores and defensive prowess.

It should come as no surprise that Sean's Unbridled Rage was in full effect this summer as the United States once again "ushered in the era of soccer in America" with a run at the World Cup. I know, I know. Cheering for the US in the World Cup is Patriotism at its finest and all that. I say piss-haw.

Here's why:

The Roster - What I'm about to say is not xenophobia or ethnocentrism. It is a simple statement of fact. I think a "National" team should be wholly made-of, coached-by, water-boyed, and made of people from that country. ONLY in this instance (casual, semi-, and professional sports are a whole other thing).  There are 316MM people in America (let's assume, conservatively, 70% were born here - one of our GREAT traditions (which I am a product of) is becoming the home to new people ever day). That means 221MM people, 50% of which are men, 64% of which are 18 or older, make up the 70MM potential players for the squad. Of which we need 25. That's two dozen plus one.  If we can't put a roster of 25 men born in these United States on the pitch and compete . . . we should lose in the prelims and try again in another four years. Instead, we took five foreign-born, foreign-living, foreign-playing athletes to play for Old Glory in Brazil. Know who was left off?

Landon Donovan - 32 year old, California-born Landon Donovan is the most accomplished American-born player in the history of competitive soccer (in accolades, reputation, and general legend (I did my homework here) and he is the most accomplished American in the history of FIFA World Cup (goals and assists). He was willing and able to play and the coach (the German-born, still residing Jugen Klinsmann) tossed him aside from the final roster (despite his performance and role in getting the US properly qualified for the tournament (never an easy task, we're not very good at soccer)).

Expectations - Which brings me to my next point. You know all the talk about how THIS is the year that soccer really established itself as a sport in the American mainstream? Let's talk about that . . . there IS a professional league in America (it is true, you can Google it). There are 19 teams (three in Canada, 16 here). The players come from around the world (I'm fine with this - see above). Here's what you probably don't know . . . the league ONLY exists as a league/complete entity and it is wholly owned and managed by a group of investors. In other words there is no "free market" economy to professional soccer in America. One other twist? The investors are backed by the corporations that sponsor soccer and they were formed as a promise from the US government (and its Department of Futbol Enthusiasm) as a way of securing the rights to the FIFA World Cup in 1994. In other words - we have professional soccer because we wanted to host a tournament. Is the league successful? Yes. Technically. The arenas are sized based on market demand and the tickets are priced to ensure sell-outs. The media rights are negotiated by the same investors that are also marketers around other sports that the media companies that carry sports want so everyone wins. There ARE fans. They love their teams. They are loyal. You know who else loves their teams and is loyal? Cubs fans. And we don't take them all that seriously, do we?  Back on point - the US Mens National Team performed EXACTLY as well in this tournament as they did the last. We barely survived the first round and got bounced the next time out. Yep. This was the year!!!!!

I get that people love the sport and the US team and the teams in general. I am NOT criticizing you all (I love what I love and make no bones about it) but I have to worry about the hysteria around the sport and its presence and growth. Why? Because my brain is wired too - there is NO sane or rational reason I might or do.