Americans Learn How To Be Sad And Love Soccer

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Sunday’s World Cup match between the US and Portugal ended with a last-second goal from Portugal’s Silvestre Varela that turned a 2-1 comeback victory for the US into a disappointing draw. John Cassidy describes the match as a teachable moment for American World Cup fans, evoking soccer’s peculiar mix of pride and deflation:

In the chichi French café where I had been watching the second half with my two young daughters, there were groans and howls of astonishment. Fifteen minutes earlier, when Dempsey scored, the joint had been rocking to chants of “U.S.A., U.S.A.” Now there was a dejected silence. I explained to my elder daughter, who earlier had colored in her own U.S. flag, that, no, Team U.S.A. hadn’t lost; and, no, it hadn’t been knocked out of the tournament. To the contrary, it had performed magnificently, and it still had a very good chance of qualifying for the final stages.

I didn’t bother explaining that the World Cup is like that: it builds you up and lets you down, warping your judgment.

Now that America has finally embraced this quadrennial exercise in fanatical but largely peaceful nationalism, our kids and their friends will have plenty of chances to experience it for themselves: the highs, the lows, and the bits in between. For that, surely, is the lasting message of Sunday’s game. Americans, like practically everybody else, have gone a little World Cup crazy.

Sophie Gilbert has a similar view, using the match to make the case that such sudden, unjust twists are part of what makes the sport exciting to watch:

Take a moment to consider the possibility that it might be more fun this way.

This might sound like the twistiest pretzel logic ever spun (and bear in mind that it’s coming from an England fan), but soccer wouldn’t be half as enjoyable without its extravagant pendulum shifts between beer-soaked elation and crushing agony. It’s profoundly, messily (or Messi-ly, depending on which team you root for) unfair. The U.S. side played with real fortitude in Manaus, not only proving itself to be eminently capable, but actually showing up the depleted Portuguese team. They should have won the game; thanks to some early sloppiness from Geoff Cameron and last minute fumbling from Bradley, they left it with one point instead of three. But doesn’t that make it more exciting?

As thrilled as Cassidy is that Americans are finally getting into the World Cup, Derek Thompson observes that this enthusiasm doesn’t extend to Major League Soccer:

The soccer evangelist says: The World Cup is nearly as popular as the World Series on television. The soccer skeptic says: … and in the 1,400 days between World Cup matches, everybody goes back to not watching soccer on TV.

There is good news for MLS investors and soccer fans. Average stadium attendance is way up in the last few years. Networks are desperate to break out soccer, because the audiences are young, the Hispanic population is growing, and the exclusive rights are dirt cheap compared to the NFL and NBA. But the reality is that nobody is watching American soccer outside the stadium (and few Americans are watching world-class matches in the Premier League on NBC). …

The World Cup is essentially a single-sport Summer Olympics introducing tens of millions of viewers to a thrilling contest in a sport they typically don’t care about. Unfortunately for America’s soccer fans, the vast majority of yesterday’s domestic viewers won’t watch another soccer game between August and 2018.

Previous Dish on Americans and soccer here, here, and here.

(Photo: The scene at Lonestar Bar and Grill, where Varela’s goal left U.S. fans stunned. By Alyssa Tanchajja.)