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updated: 7/2/2014 6:08 AM

U.S. soccer loss or not, things are different now

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  • Julian Green, middle, celebrates after scoring the United States' goal Tuesday during the World Cup Round of 16 match won by Belgium 2-1.

    Julian Green, middle, celebrates after scoring the United States' goal Tuesday during the World Cup Round of 16 match won by Belgium 2-1.
    Associated Press


So that's it for the United States soccer side in the World Cup.

(Yes, I have taken to calling it a "side" rather than the more common "team" in North America.)

Gone but not forgotten: A sports fan would have to be pretty stubborn to resist acknowledging the value of the U.S. run.

There was a remarkable performance by American goalie Tim Howard. There was a terrific goal by 19-year-old Julian Green.

Yet in the end Belgium won 2-1 in the Round of 16, with all the goals coming in the 30 minutes of extra time.

Personally, it's no fun making fun of soccer anymore. I'm going to have to switch to cricket, croquet or maybe even cribbage.

I haven't exactly been bitten by the soccer bug but have been smitten by this World Cup in Brazil.

Maybe this sport will retreat back into the corner of the corner now, but maybe not. This isn't a time even as recent as 2002 when soccer essentially went away again after the U.S. lost in the quarterfinals.

Demographics are unlikely to let that happen again. Kids are unlikely to move to other sports when this World Cup ends and leave soccer behind altogether.

The Chicago viewing audience for United States-Belgium grew into Soldier Field. Organizers might have had to move the show onto Lake Michigan to accommodate the crowd if the U.S. had advanced.

Soccer has hunted down Americans. The game still is foreign over here, but so are delicacies like the best champagne, truffles and Heidi Klum.

A large percentage of the Soldier Field crowd consisted of young people who rode public transportation down with or without parents and who are as familiar with corner kicks as onside kicks.

Soccer spies tell me that kids play the FIFA soccer video game and learn the names and club teams of the world's best players.

In the past young people who played soccer in school and youth leagues proceeded to abandoned the game. Now they'll more likely enjoy dual allegiances like baseball and soccer, basketball and soccer or football and futbol.

Nobody is more surprised by what I'm predicting here than I am. For somebody who based much of his career on snickering, smirking and sneering, soccer always has been an easy target.

Yet there I was, watching U.S.-Belgium and marveling at the action and athleticism.

No, the attraction wasn't only nationalism. This game would have been dramatic even if it were, say, Belgium-Argentina.

Earlier in the tournament I found myself screaming "Goooooal!" from the recliner when Costa Rica won and "Ohhh!" when the Netherlands rallied to break Mexico's heart.

And this guy Messi from Argentina does with his feet can be appreciated as much as LeBron James, Tom Brady and Mike Trout are for what they do with their hands.

Not everyone will agree with that observation. Some Americans young and old will continue to resist embracing soccer.

Look, I'm not saying that I'll join the crowd that starts attending Chicago Fire games and watching the English Premier League on TV.

But I'll admit this much: I'll be interested in what happens the rest of this World Cup and look forward to the next one in 2018.

Soccer always deserved some measure of respect because nothing so popular around the world should be totally dismissed by snobs like me back here.

Yet skeptics always could wonder whether seed spitting is the No. 2 sport overseas if soccer continues to be No. 1. Undeniable, however, is that for the past two weeks at least, soccer has reached mass appeal in the United States, of all places.

Not only that but there is the possibility that the sport finally is becoming what advocates claimed it would be in this country.

Now you'll have to excuse me while I try to think of some jokes about cribbage.

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