Archive for Thursday, March 23, 2006

Opinion: Soccer deserves respect

March 23, 2006

Ok, so conditions weren't exactly perfect for last Thursday's girls soccer game at Basehor-Linwood High School.

The temperature was stuck in the 30s and the wind was stuck at a level just below gale-force. Still, I was happy to see some soccer, especially since I got to watch from the comfort of the press box.

I happen to love soccer, which maybe makes me a bit odd. The game is gaining popularity, but in a lot of ways it's still the Rodney Dangerfield of US sports: it gets no respect.

The guys on ESPN's Sportscenter always deliver soccer highlights with a bit of sarcasm, as if they'd much rather be describing a slam dunk or a towering home run. National sports personality Jim Rome is one of the most outspoken critics of soccer. Here's what he said when asked if he would let his kid play:

"My son is not playing soccer. I will hand him ice skates and a shimmering sequined blouse before I hand him a soccer ball. Soccer is not a sport, does not need to be on my TV, and my son will not be playing it."

Wow, good to see he's setting such a strong parenting example.

There are also plenty of local folks who have no use for what Pele called "the beautiful game."

At Eudora's regional wrestling tournament I overheard a couple nearby talking about soccer. I jotted down the man's words in my notebook, because I got such a kick out of them:

"It's an awful, European sport where ties are rewarded," he said. "It doesn't teach sportsmanship."

Apparently sportsmanship is all about winning or losing; you can't learn it in a game that has ties. Never mind that NFL football games occasionally end in a tie.

I don't know what school that guy was from, but he obviously won't be caught dead at a soccer game this spring. That's his loss, because the game is entertaining, whether played by boys or girls.

The skill level of American kids is growing immensely, and growing fast. Just six years ago I was playing high school soccer up in Minnesota, but it almost seems like I'm watching a different game now. There are freshmen and sophomores who are making moves that I was barely sniffing as a senior.

That gives me some hope that soccer is going to gain respect in the United States sometime soon.

Let's face it, the biggest reason for anti-soccer animosity is ugly-Americanism. The US has traditionally been behind most of the world on the soccer pitch, at least on the men's side. We're not the best at it, therefore it's stupid and worthless.

But the pendulum is swinging. The US women's team is one of the world's best, a favorite in every World Cup. Mia Hamm is now retired, but she remains perhaps the most recognizable female athlete in the world.

The men's team is finally gaining on the rest of the world, as well.

The team has climbed to No. 5 in the latest FIFA rankings and, with the next Cup only months away, Landon Donovan and the boys have a real shot to capture the country's attention.

Once the men win a Cup, look for the soccer bandwagon to get crowded.

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