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William C. Altreuter
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Friday, June 18, 2010

You know what has gotten really old? Sports columns about how Americans hate/don't understand soccer. For the most part these pieces amount to the self-exaltation of the author's own ignorance or jingoism, but beyond that they are also demonstrably false. ESPN wouldn't be broadcasting these games twice a day if nobody was watching, and it wouldn't be running live banners on its home page if people didn't care about each match. A generation ago Frank Deford could quip that "soccer is the next big thing, and it always will be", and it was funny, but a generation ago Frank Deford was funny. Things change. Boomers may not have grown up watching soccer, but we've aged into and beyond parenthood watching our kids play it, and for our children World Cup is as exciting as any other tournament. It is probably true that Americans don't engage as much with the sport on a sub-national level-- the MLS certainly doesn't excite me, and unless it's on in a bar where I happen to be I will not really linger over a Premier League match. That's not the same as saying that I don't enjoy the sport though-- unless it's on in a bar where I happen to be I will not really linger over a Triple A baseball game either.

There has been some grumbling about how dull this World Cup has been so far, but I'm not buying it. The first matches in the group round are frequently marked by conservative play, but there has already been a big upset, and there are quite a few teams that are already confronted with "de facto play-in games". The next stage could have a very different look than years past-- France, Italy and England are in trouble, and so is Spain. How weird would it be if none of those got through?

(On the other hand, I thought this was pretty funny.)

UPDATE: It's still early going, but wouldn't it be a trip if Italy, Spain, England, France and Germany didn't make it through? They are each in some measure of trouble....Latin America is dominating, Asia is surprising, and Eastern Europe is coming on strong.

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