Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Clint Dempsey and Oguchi Onyewu are among those who will will represent the United States in the World Cup this summer. Yet most Americans don’t care. A sport that garners the attention of the entire European continent and has a total of more than two billion supporters around the world barely cracks the sports pages in this country. When the Americans made the quarterfinals in 2002, the response of the American public was a resounding yawn.

This year, despite getting placed in what many experts tab as one of the hardest groups pairings, the seventh-ranked Americans are expected to contend for the title. While powerhouse teams like the Italians, the English and the Brazilians make the tournament very anti-climatic, the U.S. team has been building up stars since their 1998 elimination from the round-robin stage, considered by some as the lowest point of men’s soccer in the U.S. While the team gets better, the audience doesn’t seem very different from before.

The problem, it seems, is the pace of the game itself. In an age when basketball teams often score well over 100 points, scores of nil-nil gets no one excited. American culture rewards quick movements and decisions which makes games like football so popular. The thought of watching a cerebral game on the tube does not seem appealing to the average American sports fan.

Soccer is a game of strategy, requiring enormous amounts of time to set up an attack and defense. European soccer has a fast pace and plenty of action, so scores of 1-0 do not reflect the game play.

Europeans adore the sport because of the personalities that come out of the various leagues. Players like David Beckham, Michael Owen, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldinho are all major stars in their respective leagues.

In the U.S., because of the sub par competition and the lack of major marketing, stars are hard to come by. The first major American star could be Freddy Adu. However, his play is too sporadic for him to become a major figure.

Also, Major League Soccer doesn’t seem to be able to build a large fan base anywhere, despite playing in some major markets Los Angeles, New York and Boston. Soccer in Europe is driven by the fans. Money comes from the fans and I don’t mean to insult anyone, but seriously, how many soccer fanatics can there be in Utah?

Another major tipping point for soccer is that there is no defining game or goal in this country. International soccer has the “hand of God” goal scored by Diego Maradona during World Cup competition that defined him, his team and the game of soccer forever. If anything, the American soccer has not been able to endure long enough to produce such memorable moments that defined international soccer.

All is not lost for soccer in the United States though. Corporate sponsors are starting to fight over the best young stars as they would in basketball. MLS is more of a minor league, eventually sending their best players overseas to Europe to play with the big boys.

By expending payrolls of the teams in the league, perhaps they would be able to retain their young talents and build up the competition of the league itself. By allowing kids to jump to international competitions at the age of 18, the league isn’t doing enough to protect kids from straying from American soccer.

Not only is building MLS important, but the pride that comes from playing for the national team diminishes when one doesn’t have a quality league in that country.

Perhaps a good showing in this years’ World Cup will be what the American public needs to pick up the game again. It would be great not only for the US national team, but also for the sport in general. So, let’s get excited about this year’s World Cup in Germany and root for the U.S.

Maystrovsky can be reached at dmaystrvsky@campustimes.org.



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