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updated: 6/25/2014 6:17 PM

Americans as underdogs a different dynamic

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  • Goalkeeper Tim Howard and his United States teammates play their third first-round World Cup Group G match today against Portugal.

      Goalkeeper Tim Howard and his United States teammates play their third first-round World Cup Group G match today against Portugal.
    Associated Press

  • American fans cheer as they watch the United States score a goal against Portugal on a big screen televison in Orlando, Fla. Viewing parties have pulled thousands of people into bars, public parks, movie theaters and other locations since the World cup began.

      American fans cheer as they watch the United States score a goal against Portugal on a big screen televison in Orlando, Fla. Viewing parties have pulled thousands of people into bars, public parks, movie theaters and other locations since the World cup began.
    Associated Press

 
 

The United States' run in soccer's World Cup demonstrates something: It's fun for the U.S. to be the underdog for a change.

This is a different dynamic for Americans, isn't it?

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Normally we're expected to solve the world's problems whether it be in Iraq or Syria or Ukraine or wherever.

America is supposed to have the greatest economy, cure all diseases and at the same time collect the most Olympic medals.

In everything but soccer, we are failures if we aren't No. 1. We're compelled to be the best. Winning is everything, right?

Considerable pressure accompanies all this. Finishing second generally is unacceptable ... aah, but finishing second in the World Cup would be terrific.

Heck, just making it out of group play today would be quite an achievement for U.S. soccer. If it doesn't happen our national team still will be a success just for taking its best shot.

Maybe that's why this morning's game in Brazil against Germany (10 a.m., ESPN) will set more TV ratings records.

Social media will be abuzz with soccer talk. Media outlets that previously ignored the sport will fixate on it. The workforce will take a soccer break like this was the NCAA basketball tournament.

But why is all this happening now? Why do 20,000 fans gather in downtown Chicago to share the experience? Why is soccer an overnight success after decades of trying to be noticed on America's sports landscape?

It's because the United States is an underdog with a legitimate chance to win on any given day.

For a long time I almost annually expressed reasons to explain why soccer hasn't gained traction in this country.

One year it was that our favorite sports feature an element of power: The long ball in baseball, hard hits in football and slam dunks in basketball.

Soccer's elements of power are more nuanced. There isn't the same sense of ooh and ahhh to the uneducated eye.

Another year the explanation was the lower quality of professional soccer in the United States compared to the higher quality elsewhere in the world.

We're used to Asian pitchers, European goalies and South African golfers coming here to prove themselves against the best.

In soccer, the best American players go overseas to prove themselves against the best players on the planet.

A friend provided another explanation: The average American doesn't know how to bet on soccer.

Gambling always is mentioned as a reason the NFL is so popular. Maybe soccer should have been giving lessons on how to bet on "the beautiful game."

None of these alleged reasons has changed, nor has the persistent complaint that there isn't enough scoring to satisfy American sports fans.

So why is soccer in the forefront of the American consciousness now?

For the younger people that I see playing soccer in the park across the street from our house it's because they understand the game, know the rules and recognize many of the players from growing up with the sport.

But for me -- and I speak only for myself on this -- the World Cup is appealing because the United States has fared well so far not as a favorite but as a decided underdog.

If the U.S. beats Germany it will be a big upset to be celebrated from Woody Guthrie's "red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters."

If Germany wins and the U.S. doesn't even advance to the second round, well, nice try anyway, fellas.

We're in that comfortable place between having absolutely no chance to contend for the title and being competitive in every game against every opponent.

Soccer fans here know we're not world-class in the sport yet, which makes each speck of success appreciated.

So let's be the first to congratulate the U.S. national team regardless of how today unfolds.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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