Sunday, June 27, 2010

Football in the USA, and why Guiseppe Rossi screwed up!

Back in the 70's some folks were sure that football (again, until the World Cup ends, I will refer to the world's most popular sport by its correct name) was about to explode in popularity. And in the 80's. And after the US hosted the World Cup in 94. And after the success of the US in the 2002 World Cup. And we still haven't heard the boom. But there have been a series of small pops, and this World Cup is another step as football establishes itself as a viable sport here.

While an explosion has not taken place, a slow evolution has. Clearly, football is in no danger in the US of overtaking American football or basketball in popularity. But it doesn't have to. If you look at the changes that have taken place over the years, it has all been good. The MLS is now 15 years old, and continues to expand. Ratings for this World Cup have been huge, and ESPN is happy to show all the games, not just the US. Americans have packed bar around the country to cheer on their lads, and even sportswriting fossils like Woody Paige have been forced to watch.

Will this all cause the explosion that's been expected for 40 years? Probably not, for several reasons. First, even if the World Cup games have caused you to take a new interest in football, you may not have access to the quality stuff you are now watching. MLS is truly a minor league, and other than Landon Donovan, who appears happy to be a shark in a pond full of flounder, you won't see most of the US guys you cheered on the past 2 weeks. Good players play in England, Spain, Italy and Germany. OK players play in other countries in Europe. The guys in MLS are either lacking in real talent, talented players near the end of their careers who thought it would be fun to live in the US like Beckham and Freddie Lundberg (and, rumor has it, one of my all time favorites Thierry Henri, who is rumored to be on his way to the Red Bulls), or, a few talented young guys who are hoping to get a chance in Europe (Jonathon Bornstein may be packing his bags soon after his strong play this week).

Second, even if we did have the best player here in the US, a regular season match would not match the intensity of the World Cup. We see this with hockey as well. Everyone wanted to watch the Olympic final against Canada. But if you turned on the and NHL game the following week, a league that does have the world's best players, well, it just didn't seem to matter.

Here's the good news about soccer in the US. The idiots who said it is boring were proven wrong. People cared and learned the names of some of the players. The US team continues to get better, and the pool of talent deepens. We are in no danger of winning the World Cup soon, but we can now play with anyone, and only a well constructed but unfinished chances yesterday keep us from advancing. And good athletes in the US for whom soccer would be their best sport are playing the game, instead of more popular sports for which they are less suited. And, Guiseppe Rossi has been shown to be a fool!

Who is Guiseppe Rossi? He is a very talented 23 year old who was born in New Jersey to Italian immigrant parents, which gave him the choice to play his international football for either country. He chose Italy, whose coach decided to take a bunch of old guys to South Africa and leave Rossi behind. Had he chosen correctly, he would have been teaming up with Landon Donovan to terrorize defenses in the World Cup. Instead he was left off a team that plays dinosaur football.

Enjoy the rest of the Cup.

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