Sunday, June 27th, 2010
In most parts of the world soccer is almost a religion. Entire families of devoted fans live, breathe every aspect of the sport. There are even border conflicts ignited by nationalistic soccer rivalries. As the new eager kid on the block, we have a few. As Chris Satullo comments in this week's Center Square, as the new eager kid on the block we have a few things to.
I cheered Wednesday when Landon Donovan planted that shot in the back of the Algerian net, giving the U.S. soccer team a World Cup moment to savor.
But hearing Donovan prattle on afterwards about "American spirit" made we wish he'd stick to corner kicks and leave the philosophizing to someone else.
Americans embrace underdogs, so the nation's soccer team casts itself in that cuddly role. Meanwhile, the rest of the world rolls its eyes.
As you listen, you know how the next game, against Ghana, turned out. But as I record this, I don't.
I do know this. If Ghana won, most of the world smiled.
In most longitudes, American soccer success is anything but a feel-good story.
For a long time, American fans obsessed mostly, predictably about sports the U.S. invented. They left the world's favorite game to the world. And the world liked it that way.
The idea of America as soccer power is a bit much for folks in lands where daily life stops for a World Cup match: You Yanks run everything else, or try to. Can't you just leave us this one thing of our own?
To the world, the notion of America as underdog is laughable. As opposed, say, to Slovenia, the little nation born out of blood and turmoil only in 1991, the one our victory knocked out of the Cup? C'mon. Recall the images of the Algerian players bent over in anguish after Wednesday's loss? They knew that, frankly, they'd carried the hopes of the whole Arab world onto that field.
It may not be a pretty thought, but it's the truth. If they'd knocked us out of World Cup, it would have been their Miracle on Ice.
The American players talk about how hard they've worked, how long they've dreamed. True, but just as true for the kids from Accra or Buenos Aires.
I'm a Yank, so I root for America's teams. But I try not to act like a Yankees fan, arrogantly assuming victory as entitlement.
And every so often, I root for the others guys, as when Canada played the U.S. for Olympic hockey gold. Because it just meant more to Canada, a nice nation if ever there was one… and because one of the things the world needs to see in us is that, sometimes, we can actually be the gracious loser.