COLUMN: USA lacks love for soccer

Monday, July 12, 2010 | 12:58 p.m. CDT

LONDON – There are plenty of reasons to hate soccer.

Players writhe about the pitch in feigned agony whenever kicked, touched or breathed upon by an opponent. There isn't instant replay, and referees regularly get important calls wrong. Games can end in a draw, or even without a score.

To those unfamiliar with the sport, so much about soccer is vexing, contrary and even un-American. And yet, it — and especially the World Cup — might just be the sport America needs.

Of course, a number of Americans followed along as the national team fought its way into the knockout stage of the World Cup. Some people even watched entire televised soccer games – no small feat for the American attention span.

But now, just weeks following the USA's heartbreaking elimination, the World Cup has already become ancient history in the States. Even in the wake of Spain's thrilling defeat of the Netherlands in the World Cup final Sunday, soccer has been rendered irrelevant and foreign to Americans once more.

It doesn't have to be. All it takes is a look at Europe to realize what we're missing.

Imagine for a minute if the Super Bowl lasted four weeks and if everyone in the United States were supporting the same team. Multiply that level of excitement and inebriation by 10, and you are left with the electric energy of football fever across Europe.

The mood is infectious and unavoidable. Grocery stores sell World Cup cupcakes, people gather in squares for rallies and flags are everywhere. In their euphoria, football-frenzied fans have even embraced a match-predicting mollusk.

If the World Cup brings rallying around the flag, it also brings rallying around the bar. Across Europe, football fans grab a pint and toast their teams — and, in the event of a loss, drink heartily to their sorrows.

The bar and pub culture during a match is so ingrained in the British mindset, for example, that offices often close early in the event of a weekday afternoon match. Super Bowl Sunday or World Cup Wednesday? The latter can be surprisingly addictive.

Speaking of addictions, a celebrity-worshipping country like America could benefit from the untapped mine of handsome and sometimes scandalous athletes that professional soccer provides.

Just look at star U.S. midfielder Landon Donovan, who took his team's loss in stride upon his return to the States by appearing on The CBS Early Show, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the Late Show with David Letterman and Regis and Kelly, just to name a few. Donovan's name has even found its way to the pages of tabloids, a further testament to his newfound celebrity status.

In Britain, even the wives and girlfriends (known as WAGs) of "footballers" are splashed across the nation's broadsheets and dramatized on television shows like "Footballers' Wives." If you thought Jessica Simpson jinxing Tony Romo was intriguing, you haven't seen anything yet.

But soccer draws its appeal from much more than its superficial elements. Ultimately, it is an international game, bringing together the world for a tournament that, every four years, defies borders and bridges cultures in passionate competition.

There are plenty of reasons to hate soccer, but there's also a lot to love. That love — for soccer and for the World Cup — is felt the world over, and that love is what America is missing.

In baseball, America's pastime, it is said one should, "Root, root, root for the home team." So, sports fans, why shouldn't the home team be the USA?

Rebecca Berg is interning at CBS News and studying in London this summer through a Missouri School of Journalism study abroad program. She will return to the Missourian as an assistant city editor in the fall.

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King Diamond July 12, 2010 | 2:00 p.m.
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Tim Dance July 12, 2010 | 2:31 p.m.

We embrace football fever, every fall and winter in fact :p

(Report Comment)
Steve Walsh July 12, 2010 | 7:09 p.m.

I love your column, Rebecca. Not being much of a soccer fan I couldn't help but laugh out loud and nod in agreement as you opened with the all too common sight of the injury-faking soccer player writhing in pain, on the ground, for no apparent reason. Compare this with a basketball player who hits the hardwood from 5 feet off the floor, gets up, and continues playing ... or with the hockey player who gets bodychecked into the boards, goes down to the ice, gets up, and skates back into the play. I guess we grow our athletes tougher in North America. As to scoring in soccer, or the lack of it, I don't think most Americans will ever really embrace the sport because we like games in which goals or points are actually scored. We also like winners and losers. Scoreless ties are, to many Americans, a waste of time. But there is a positive to soccer you failed to mention. Unlike an NBA game which sees the last 2 minutes drag on for 35 minutes because the teams feel the need to use each and every one of their 48 timeouts, the clock never stops in soccer. Soccer fans are spared the bane of American sports - the timeout. Now ... if only these guys could put the ball in the net from time to time we might just start to like this game.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 12, 2010 | 10:27 p.m.

Flood and freeze the playing surface, put ice skates on the players' feet, and you might actually have a real game, eh?

(Report Comment)
Andrew Hansen July 13, 2010 | 9:22 a.m.

"Imagine for a minute if the Super Bowl lasted four weeks..."
Ummmm...not sure how the World Cup is much different than the Super Bowl + Playoffs in this regard. Both are just a series of elimination games with the climax being a single championship game. Pretty similar set-up.

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