It's the World Cup: Listen to mother, and don't boot it

SUSAN REIMER

November 04, 1993|By SUSAN REIMER

Many of you mothers of soccer players were no doubt delighted to learn, as I was, that the World Cup, soccer's championship, is coming to the United States next summer. Games will be played in nine cities, including Washington's RFK Stadium.

You no doubt thought, as I did, "Finally. I can go to a soccer game and not have to bring the orange slices for halftime."

But you mothers of soccer players were no doubt dismayed to hear, as I was, that the United States has absolutely no shot at winning the World Cup.

How can this be? The mothers of America have been hauling their kids to soccer practices for a generation. Surely some of those players, for whom we shelled out hundreds of dollars for camps, travel teams and clinics, are ready to bring this soccer prize to the United States.

No? Then why in goodness' name have we been spending every Saturday from August to November on the soccer sidelines, in sun, in wind and rain? I know women who drive to three or four sets of practices and games every week -- one for each child. Others write checks for $200 or $400 for travel squads, spring seasons or Olympic development teams.

And the camps. My kids think Naval Academy soccer coach Greg Myers is a grandparent. Well they might; they spend weeks every summer with him.

I have been told that the United States would consider it a tremendous victory (not to mention a tremendous surprise) to finish among the final eight teams in the World Cup tournament.

That's depressing. And there is no reason for it. What was Michael Jordan's mother doing on Saturday mornings that she couldn't get him into a soccer league?

What about Bo Jackson's parents, and Deion Sanders' mother and dad? Those guys have made millions playing both football and baseball. They couldn't find time for a spring soccer league?

Something is missing in the United States when it comes to soccer. And it isn't the mothers. Soccer was supposed to become the national pastime because mothers like me, when given the fall sports menu, saw the bone-crunching tackling of football and rejected that activity out of hand. It is a wonder the National Football League can field a team, given the abhorrence of mothers.

What's missing? It's the want-to. American kids have to dedicate their lives to soccer for this country to be a world power.

"When I was growing up in England," says Kenny Cooper, coach of Baltimore's professional soccer teams, the Spirit and the now-defunct Blast, and a tireless soccer booster, "there was a soccer ball in my room from the day I was born. It was the first thing I saw when I woke up and the last thing I saw before sleep.

"We were taught to have great reverence for four figures: God, the queen, the president of the United States and Pele."

Cooper has been in the United States for 24 years, and he has noticed that with each new season, American children pick up a different piece of equipment. A football, a basketball, a baseball bat.

"American kids can compete with any kids in the soccer world," he says. "That need to be the best is born in them. But they would have to dedicate themselves to it. It would have to be like a religion."

American girls have produced a much quicker return on the investment of their mothers than American boys. The U.S. national team won the first women's World Cup, held in 1991, and is a gold-medal favorite when women's soccer debuts in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.

Today's mothers are determined to provide the same sports opportunities for their daughters as they have for their sons, and it shows. There are 50,000 youth soccer players in Maryland, compared with 174 in 1974. Of those, 43 percent are girls. A national survey calls women's soccer the fastest growing sport.

"Soccer is the perfect sport for families," says Cooper. "You have the ball, you lose the ball, you go get it back. Simple as that. You don't have to be big, you don't have to be fast. You don't have to buy a lot of equipment. My little 5-year-old Molly wants to play. And she can."

Cooper is right, but it doesn't take a lifetime in soccer to know that what he says is true. Mothers of not-very-big, not-very-fast kids recognized the universal appeal of soccer long ago. We would not have invested all those soggy, cold afternoons, all those car-pooling miles, all those dollars otherwise.

We'd just like a little something for all our trouble. Like maybe a thank-you. And a World Cup.

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