(Long Island, NY) The whole world calls soccer their national game besides one country. Take a guess who that might be? If you said ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’ (our United States of America), you were correct. Baseball, football and basketball are the main sports for us, and soccer has been gaining some momentum. But there just is not enough interest to garner anything remotely close to the frenzy it causes overseas.
With the latest defeat of the U.S. team in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the sport may have taken another step back in this country. Being placed in Group E with Italy, the Czech Republic and Ghana, it was no easy task to advance to the Round of 16. In their first game, the Americans were shut out by the Czechs, 3-0. They then tied Italy, 1-1, which was looked at as a victory of sorts. The Italians are a very strong club and with the point earned in a draw, the U.S. still had a chance to qualify for the knockout round. They had to win their match against Ghana, and have Italy defeat the Czech Republic.
Well, Italy held up their end of the bargain by winning 2-0. The U.S. played fairly well against Ghana, but ended up on the short end of a 2-1 score. Team captain Claudio Reyna turned the ball over near his own goal and it was promptly deposited in the net by Ghana’s Haminu Draman in the 22nd minute. Clint Dempsey scored the equalizer for the U.S. at the 43rd minute. But then a very questionable call on Oguchi Onyewu gave Ghana a penalty kick two minutes into added time before the first half ended. Stephen Appiah gave the Black Stars the advantage on a perfect shot that U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller had no chance on.
There were opportunities for the U.S. to score, but knowing that they needed to win and not tie, it was almost an impossible task once time became an issue. Ghana earned the right to advance after playing Italy tough and defeating the Czechs and the U.S. Their first match in the knockout stage is against defending World Cup champions Brazil.
Did it make a big difference as far as popularity of the sport goes that the U.S. didn’t advance further in the World Cup? It is difficult to say. Four years ago, they surprised everyone and made it to the quarter finals. How much of an impact did that have?
For fans of the sport, it is an incredible event. The intensity of the World Cup cannot be matched by any other, except for maybe team competition in the Olympics. The problem is convincing non-fans and marginal fans that they are missing out by not watching. Personally, I have been following soccer from afar until this World Cup. I am very impressed by the quality of play and the physical game. I never knocked soccer, but didn’t give it much of a chance. Now it is without a doubt one of the sports that I will keep a keen eye on.
One problem is that the leagues we have in the States are not the same as international competition. MLS has many good players, but there are key names that were on the World Cup team that ply their trade overseas. Locally, we have the Long Island Rough Riders that participate in the USL 2nd Division, and the New York Red Bulls of the MSL.
If there was ever a time to see if you can be a soccer fan, the knockout stage of the World Cup is it. The best of the best remain, with 16 teams fighting for the title in a single-elimination tournament. Every goal counts.