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Americans and Soccer

Every time the World Cup is on the same annoying question comes up: Will Americans accept soccer? Well, frankly, I could not care less. Yesterday I watched the US-Ghana game in a steakhouse in the suburbs of Nashville, with the game sound replaced by a country music selection so immaculately insufferable that they’re surely using it to extract bogus information in the Guantanamo Bay torture resort. Apart from me, there was a guy drinking alone, and some of the kitchen staff. Did I care less about the game because of that? No. But I did care incredibly little if soccer was going to be accepted by the steakhouse patrons munching the still-bleeding meat. 

For one thing, what exactly would count as acceptance? Should the MLS be like the NFL and end with a tacky superspectacle, with moribund rock acts performing at half-time, while U.S. Air Force flies over their heads, the field is covered with the flag and Budweiser premiers commercials in which, say, a horse farts into a woman's face? Should the game be reshaped so as to allow commercials to be broadcast during each throw in? Should soccer competitions be redesigned so that teams/clubs play 162 games before the first relevant one, rendering most of them entirely, fantastically meaningless as in baseball? Should the offside rule be changed so that soccer games have basketball scores and the American viewer of the thumb-happy remote does not switch the channel too soon? Would it be necessary for the U.S. team to attain the world superiority of the U.S. basketball team, so that Americans can crush, say, Ghana (oh wait!) the way the U.S. basketball team crushed Mozambique a couple of Olympics ago, when Vince Carter jumped over the head of their center for a dunk and pumped his chest thereafter, because it appeared a great achievement to him to humiliate Mozambique’s players? (Indeed it did turn out to be the greatest achievement of his career.) Would the U.S. team, every time they played, have to make the world look small and underdeveloped and undemocratic and pitiful if not exposed to the eternal sunlight of American greatness? Would it mean that David Brooks finally cares about it?

What acceptance are we talking about?

I've lived here for nearly 20 years, and have not had any problems finding people to watch or play soccer with—none of us, whether born in Bosnia or Togo, Rosario or Cleveland, worries about acceptance of soccer. The World Cup and Champions League are easy to find on TV, the bars showing games are packed at 8 AM on Sunday for a Premiership game. In fact I can see more Premiership games here than my friend in London, and this in addition to the Italian and German and Argentine league games that I get to watch. I play my soccer at 7 AM on Saturdays, because all of the soccer fields in the city of Chicago are continuously booked through the summer. Many of the fields along the lake shore are infested with children playing every day of the week. And it could be that I have been particularly lucky or the FBI is sending spies my way, but I have quite a few friends whose Americanness not even Dick Cheney would question who are as fanatical about playing and watching soccer as anyone from the Old World. 

The perception of acceptance and non-acceptance is directly related to the way one might think of or imagine what being American is. For those for whom Mexican-Americans are not truly American, true Americans will never accept soccer. From where I stand, my 7 AM soccer buddies from Montenegro, Macedonia, Togo, Mexico, Argentina, England, South Africa—and even from the US—are as American as can be. For those who believe that it was only by a misfortunate fluke that the Founding Fathers did not write the baseball rule book as they were writing the Bill of Rights, soccer is an uneventful, un-American game. If you think that what is great about America (frighteningly free market, occasional democracy, quickness to invade foreign countries, oil spills etc.) is evident in baseball then by all means, be my guest and instead of the Uruguay-Ghana game enjoy watching the fifth inning of the second game of the doubleheader between Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.