Hearne: Why Soccer Hasn’t Really Quite Made it Yet in This Country

12_28kansas_city_wizI’ve been a supporter of soccer in KC and was a season ticket holder for the Wiz and Wizards from the team’s inaugural season until it moved to the lowly T-Bones stadium in 2008…

In other words, I’m no newcomer to following the sport on the world’s stage and the modern evolution of the game in this country.

When the Kansas City Wiz launched in 199 with the potty friendly marketing motto, “You gotta go!” that attracted stadium flyovers by plumbers cracking bathroom jokes, nobody in the local sports media knew quite what to expect.They dutifully gathered at Arrowhead to see what this new-fangled sport was about because it was Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt‘s and they didn’t want to miss the next big thing.

Well, turns out  it took awhile.

Until recent years when the legions of small kids finally grew up and got paychecks after playing embarrassingly bad soccer in their youth. And until after many were drawn by the intrigue and drama of the far superior players and teams playing on the international stage, did more traditional sports fans started paying closer attention to the sport.

And voila, they liked what they saw.

gun__1258993439_lalas_kansas

Alexi Lalas

And they finally learned enough about the game to develop an understanding that transcended making fun of low scoring and tie games as if the Chiefs had triumphantly walked away from a zero-zero score against the Denver Broncos in Mile High Stadium.

In short, people in this country have finally started to get soccer.

Oddly, among the last to truly understand the game is this country’s news and sports media. I heard some of the most silly and trite observations and expressions of support that were made by well-intentioned reporters and news anchors at CNN, for example.

And of course, there was the bold headline in the Lawrence Journal World that declared, “USA Loses,” after its 2-2 tie game against Portugal.

Then in today’s Kansas City Star comes the headline, “A Valiant Effort.”

Look, to anyone who’s followed soccer for any length of time, one thing was clear yesterday.

zusi YB 2014The USA was outplayed from the get go and incredibly lucky not to go down far harder against a Belgium team that was having an off day.

Which wasn’t so much the case for the USA squad, it’s flaws and inferior play were evident throughout the team’s entire World Cup run.

From Day One the US struggled with passing and to maintain possession and were lucky to sneak past “a troubled Ghana, injured Portugal, and half-speed Germany,” as World Soccer Talk‘s Robert Hay puts it.

 

Check out what CBS Sports Jerry Hinnen had to say about yesterday’s game:

“If you needed a handy representation of the gulf in raw quality between Belgium and the United States, look no further than each side’s respective substitutions at striker. With the US under siege and clinging desperately to the 0-0 scoreline that would get them to extra time, Jurgen Klinsmann brought on Chris Wondolowski — a 31-year-old MLS veteran who’s spent his entire pro career in the United States and developed a reputation as a ruthless poacher in front of goal. The only problem is that, terrific as he’s been in MLS, he hasn’t developed a reputation for much else at any other level.

Meanwhile, at the start of that extra time, Belgium brought on Romelu Lukaku. A 21-year-old powerhouse with speed, touch, and no shortage of brute force, Lukaku led Everton in scoring this past season while on loan from Chelsea — and probably raising his value on the transfer market above the majority of the US’s entire starting 11 combined.”

And in a way, this is why sophisticated fans of the soccer in this country have actually slowed the growth of Major League Soccer. Because they understand that money talks and with rare exception the by far superior soccer players from here leave to seek their fame and fortune on the international stage where they will be handsomely rewarded.

Landon Donovan

Landon Donovan

In time that may all even out and MLS may grow enough to compete to keep this country’s best players. However does anybody think the National Football League’s biggest stars would consider for one moment playing in the Canadian Football League or European Football League? Of course not.

And getting out of MLS and playing in the big leagues abroad is what star USA players like goalie Tim Howard dream of. That’s why the 35 year-old goalie who helped keep the US in the game yesterday left MLS team the lowly New York Metrostars for international powerhouse Manchester United in 2003.

The USA’s best players would be foolish to play for chump change against mediocre teams in MLS if their talent and quality of play afforded them the opportunity to play for superior teams and big bucks abroad.

So did the USA lose to Portugal in its 2-2 tie game?

Of course not, but in a way they did, because even against a wounded Portugal, the USA’s limited talent squandered a dramatic victory with just seconds to go in the game.

And was Team USA’s effort yesterday against Belgium a “valiant” one?

Please, Tim Howard’s maybe.

The 2014 World Cup will go a long way in helping establish an interest and understanding in the sport of football in this country. And that understanding may finally help erode the resentment many baseball, football, hockey and basketball fans in this country have long felt for soccer.

Because in “the world’s game,” even Super Powers can and do get their your you-know-whats handed to them by “lesser” countries like Belgium and Portugal. And in this country we subscribe to the philosophy that “size matters.”

Portugal striker Cristiano Renaldo

Portugal striker Cristiano Renaldo

Like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox owning Kansas City’s A’s and Royals over the years via lucrative television contracts and licensing deals.

And while Kansas City got some major props for having two Sporting KC players on the squad, they graded poorly in the CBS Sports Player Ratings (1 to 10 scale) from yesterday’s loss to Belgium.

“CB Matt Besler, 6. Besler was an absolute rock for some 93 minutes … and then couldn’t deal with a barreling Lukaku, slipped, and watched the end result become the all-important first Belgium goal. Soccer is cruel.”

“RM Graham Zusi, 4. There was a time in World Cup qualifying when it looked like Zusi was Landon Donovan‘s heir apparent to the role of ‘cutting, hard-working two-way wide midfielder,’ even if he wasn’t quite as comfortable tucking inside as Donovan was (and was more comfortable delivering crosses into the box). It didn’t materialize at this World Cup, as Zusi never seemed comfortable on the ball, and against Belgium committed both a handful of poor giveaways and could not do much with his handful of touches inside the box.”

So yes, we’ve come a long way from the time several years back when Star editor Mike Fannin reached across the aisle and killed one of my columns in the FYI section about a respected journalist who had laid out an edgy explanation about most American sportswriters not getting soccer.

No names were named, no fingers pointed Kansas City’s way, it was merely an overview of how the sport was being treated by this country’s sports media and obviously it hit too close to home.

A-Long-WayAnd the truth be known, the media in this country still mostly don’t fully get it, but they’ve come a long way, baby!

They’ve still got a long way to go too, but at least we’re on the right path…finally.

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21 Responses to Hearne: Why Soccer Hasn’t Really Quite Made it Yet in This Country

  1. jimmy says:

    “And that understanding may finally help erode the resentment many baseball, football, hockey and basketball fans in this country have long felt for soccer.”

    The resentment of soccer seemed very real up until recently (Ann Coulter being thoroughly mocked for her asinine article instead of praised was a nice change of pace for soccer fans). I have enjoyed watching soccer for a while and it seemed that the word “pretentious” used to be thrown around quite a bit by non-soccer fans. As if fans of soccer were turning up their nose at traditional American sports or something when it is entirely possible to enjoy sports on a local, national, and international stage. Of course, these days I hear a lot about “bandwagon” soccer fans from those who have watched or played the sport for years. Fandom is often one of the best parts of following a sport or a team but it can also be one of the most frustrating aspects as well.

  2. the dude says:

    I wouldn’t exactly say that Belgium was having an off day hearne.
    Howard was playing lights out and the US defense was bending enough to hold back one of the best teams in the tournament for the better part of 120+ minutes.
    Give a little credit where it is due, we were missing our striker point-man.

    Klinsman did screw up by not putting Green in after the first goal.

  3. rkcal says:

    Yep. That’s it. In the world of what everybody else calls football, the U.S. is strictly the minor leagues. It’s not a role we’re accustomed to playing and we really don’t know how to handle psychologically. It’s frustrating. That’s the place where I think a lot of the “if you like soccer, then you’re a pussy” crowd comes from. I enjoy watching Sporting, but just turn on any Premier League game on a Saturday morning, and it’s easy to see the difference. Everybody else’s best athletes play soccer; ours don’t.

  4. Jack Springer says:

    Scoring doesn’t make sense.

    The clock goes the other way.

    There are no plays.

    People sing olay, olay, olay … and never shut up.

    Who wants to go to games where most of the people there are pre-teens.

  5. balbonis moleskine says:

    There just isn’t enough scoring in it for me.

    And considering our country’s giant amount of spending for soccer (look how many fields are being built in the suburbs vs. basketball courts, baseball diamonds or football fields) I think our performance has been pretty poor.

    I think the problem is the best athletes don’t play soccer in the US. Soccer is 4th draw behind football, basketball and baseball for youth talent.

    There are a lot of little wimpy kids from the suburbs mucking around on the weekends but that isn’t translating to international success.

    • Brandon Leftridge says:

      “I think the problem is the best athletes don’t play soccer in the US. Soccer is 4th draw behind football, basketball and baseball for youth talent.”

      I think we’ll start seeing a shift now that it’s becoming painfully obvious football causes mashed potato brains and leaves the participant dead at an average age of 46.

  6. KCMonarch says:

    The offsides rule ruins the game for me. My thought is you should TRY to get a player beyond the defense to score.

  7. Smith says:

    The Wizards launched in 199? That WAS a long time ago.

    The 12th century was awfully rough for them I’ll bet.

  8. Old Man Kissel says:

    One thing people don’t tell you is that soccer is the worlds most dangerous sport.

    People complain about the concussions people get in the NFL. But many more soccer players in Europe are getting brain damage. Why? Because they play a sport were people hit a fast moving ball with their damn head.

    If you care about your kids don’t let them play soccer. It will ruin their brains. Let them play baseball in stead.

    http://www.dailyiowan.com/2012/05/10/Sports/28392.html

    Jim Nantz seems to understand it too.

    JIM NANTZ: We’re talking about should your children play football? You have daughters. I have a daughter. We have the Nantz National Alzheimer’s Center down at Methodist Hospital in Houston. We’re all over this research right now. I have committed my life to this. My father died of Alzheimer’s, and I believe it was the result of a football injury he suffered in college. Research shows that at the college level, a women’s soccer player is two and a half times more likely to suffer a concussion than a college football player. I don’t hear anybody saying right now, should we put our daughters in these soccer programs?

    The point is this issue spreads well beyond the NFL. They’re at the top of the ladder so everybody looks up to the NFL. But what are they going to do at the college level? The NCAA has just hired a chief medical officer, Dr. Brian Hartline, for the first time. They’re opening up the NCAA Sports Science Institute. They really want to get their hands on this to affect everybody, because you go the level below that to the high school level. I mean, concussions are happening in all these various sports. It’s not isolated to the NFL.

    The mainstream media wants to take football and the NFL down a peg or two. But don’t piss on my shoe and say it’s raining. Soccer is just as dangerous of a sport as American Football.

    Once again, if you care about your kids. Don’t have them play a sport where they hit a moving ball with their heads unprotected. Give them a mit and a bat and have them play baseball in stead.

    810 scoops 610 once again.

  9. harley says:

    Harley to reduce his true identity on kcc
    Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read my elongated comments
    and to put up with my rants.
    Complete details to come.

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