Soccer in America: Has the Moment Finally Come?

Longtime fans swoon, as dream nears reality

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The U.S. team's spectacular last-minute win Wednesday has again fueled speculation that soccer may be on the edge of going mainstream in this country. America is famously bored by the world-beloved sport, preferring baseball or football; what's more, soccer seems to dredge up the sort of hate in some quarters that would seem strong even at an anti-Yankees rally in Boston. With all this working against them, American soccer fans were worried that something as small as poor refereeing might reverse the pro-soccer momentum of the past weeks. The photo-finish Algeria match, though, may have swept those worries away. Is soccer finally at the tipping point, as people have been predicting for years?

  • Soccer, American Style The New York Times' George Vecsey argues that the U.S. team's fight against Algeria was carried out in a particularly American fashion, with a heavy emphasis on athleticism and heart.
These were not foreign athletes. These were Americans doing something recognizable--Jordan thumping his chest, taking the court for the last shot; Jeter clapping his hands upon getting to second base, summoning something from within, something Americans have seen before ... As the need for a goal increased, Bradley sent in Benny Feilhaber at the half, Edson Buddle at the 64th minute, then Beasley. Now it was the old pro football drill of everybody go long. How American was that?
  • The Perfect Storm "American soccer fans have been waiting for this moment for decades," writes Ken Gude, co-founder of Association Football, at The Huffington Post. "Support for soccer in the United States has been growing steadily," and broadcasters have adjusted accordingly. "The missing ingredient seemed to be something that would capture the attention of the casual sports fan and the broader American public. Nothing does that like outrage and winning," both of which have been in good supply in this tournament. With the U.S. advancing into plausibly winnable matches in the octafinals and quarterfinals, "everything seems to be coming together at the right time."
  • 'The Day I Was Waiting for My Whole Soccer-Fan Life' Will Bunch at The Huffington Post remembers wishing Americans would once celebrate an American soccer win like Argentinians do for their team. "June 23, 2010, the day that Landon Donovan scored the greatest goal in American history, and people honked their horns and poured out into the street, just like I imagined 20 years ago." He links to photos and stories of celebrations on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, bars in D.C. and San Francisco. Particularly sweet for him, though, was the reaction in Philadelphia, his "adopted NFL-crazed hometown."
I tuned into Philly's current sports talk king and heard caller after caller wanting to talk soccer, about how exciting the game was. One caller said he was a UPS driver in the middle of his daily route--he said he saw people literally running out into the street after the game ended; that's how excited Americans were, and how anxious to share the incredible thing they'd just seen with their neighbors.

People running out into the street, in Philadelphia, Pa. Over a soccer goal. Just the way I'd once fantasized, yet in my heart doubted would ever happen.
  • Okay, I'm Convinced "For as long as I can remember, soccer was supposed to be the next big thing on the American sports scene," writes a skeptical John--not a huge soccer fan--at PowerLine. But he thinks that this year it might actually happen. "As evidence, I offer this video from a bar in Nebraska--Nebraska! OK, it was Lincoln, but still. The video shows the last minute and a half of the U.S. victory over Algeria, with Landon Donovan's winning goal:"

  • Oh, Please No Foreign Policy's Dan Drezner acknowledges that the victory "seemed tailor-made for pushing the popularity of the sport in this country to the next level. Americans like winners, but they really like last-minute, come-from-behind winners, and this American team seems to excel in that area." Still, he's got visions of Americans rioting over soccer like the French do, or"Philosophers using a national team's sporting performance to opine about the state of the union." Says Drezner, "I'll take American semi-engagement with soccer over French obsession any day of the week, thank you very much."
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