U.S. embraces World Cup, but not passionately

June 28, 1994|By Bill Tanton

When it comes to World Cup soccer, we Americans still have a long way to go.

In other parts of the world, people riot back home after their national team plays a game here.

The Colombian coach, after the 2-1 loss to the U.S. team, announced he was quitting. "I have no idea why we played so poorly," he said.

In Egypt, a Nigerian student watched on TV as his country's team lost to Argentina -- and then had a heart attack and died.

We're just not that way over here.

Maybe crowd behavior is getting better here, while in other countries it's getting worse.

When the New York Rangers recently won their first Stanley Cup since 1940, the fans in the Big Apple behaved in an exemplary manner. Surprise, surprise!

But the fans rioted in Vancouver, B.C., home of the vanquished Canucks.

Here in the United States, we've learned there's more to life than sports. That's especially true where soccer is concerned.

In fact, before World Cup USA began, there were many who thought the event would induce one gigantic yawn on these shores.

Though the tournament began only 11 days ago, it's already clear that Americans are supporting the event well.

The crowds have been large -- there were 93,369 spectators in the Rose Bowl Sunday to witness the U.S. team's 1-0 loss to Romania -- and they have been well behaved.

The U.S. team has done better than most expected.

With a win and a tie in its first-round games, it has four points and a good chance to advance to the second round starting Saturday.

The strong showing of the U.S. team has resulted in TV ratings even better than the networks had anticipated.

"We're very pleased," ABC-TV's Mark Mandel said yesterday. "We had a 7.8 overnight for the U.S. game Sunday."

Each point translates to 942,000 persons -- which means there were about 7.3 million persons watching late Sunday afternoon.

That, frankly, is more people than most of us thought we'd ever see watching a soccer game in America.

ABC had an optimum situation with that game. The U.S. team had created excitement by upsetting Colombia, and now the follow-up game was being shown live on a major network at a reasonable hour.

"We could not be more pleased with what has happened in the first games both on and off the field," said Alan Rothenberg, World Cup USA chairman.

The first World Cup ever held in America is bringing tremendous enjoyment to some Baltimore soccer fans.

Today a busload of Oldtimers Soccer Association members made the trip to Washington's RFK Stadium to see Mexico play Italy.

The president of the Oldtimers is Nick Kropfelder, who was a high-scoring center forward for Loyola College and a couple of pro teams in the late '40s and early '50s. Kropfelder is one of only four soccer players in the State of Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame.

"This'll be the third game we've seen," Kropfelder said, "and I've enjoyed it very much.

"We put 47 people on our bus and we've had to turn people away. We can't miss this -- a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the best soccer players in the world. The ability of the players is outstanding. The strategy is fascinating."

Not that Kropfelder feels that everything he's seen has been ideal.

"I don't like the way these teams put one striker inside," he said, "and they send the ball in to him and he tries to outrun everybody.

"Another thing I don't like is their unwillingness to shoot the ball from outside the penalty area. But -- oh, well -- I'm from the old school."

Kropfelder thinks America's best player is midfielder John Harkes, which is too bad in a way.

If America does get to play another game, Harkes will have to sit it out as a penalty for having been given two yellow-card cautions in the first round.

Kropfelder is not a fan of the U.S. goalie, Tony Meola.

"He should have saved the only goal Romania scored against us Sunday," Nick said. "Meola should have been protecting the corner. It was the only shot the Romanian player had."

It was to be expected that Kropfelder and the Linz brothers, Bill and John, and the rest of the Oldtimers would enjoy the World Cup. Soccer is their game.

Throughout the day yesterday, I asked people I know to be sports fans -- as opposed to soccer fans -- how they're reacting to the World Cup.

"I haven't watched one second of it," said Quint Kessenich, a former lacrosse All-American at Johns Hopkins and now the goalie for Greene Turtle.

Kessenich, who played high school soccer on Long Island, has an interesting theory on the popularity -- or lack of it -- of soccer in the United States.

"Soccer has been around forever," he said. "The U.S. invented better games such as football, basketball and baseball."

Bill Klarner, who is in Loyola College's Hall of Fame for swimming, said he hasn't watched any of the World Cup either.

"I don't have anything against the World Cup," Klarner said. "It's just that there are too many other things to do."

"World Cup?" said Dave Nelson, from the investment field. "I can take it or leave it."

"I'll leave it," said George Franke, onetime Princeton fullback. "I think it's boring."

Numerous others were just as indifferent.

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