World Cup far from being most Americans' cup of tea

The Kickoff

June 12, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

If being a soccer fan in America is wrong, I don't want to be right.

It's shameful that sports fans in this country huddle behind the provincial boundaries of a few America-centric professional sports. There's a big world out there, and most of it is focused on the World Cup right now.

While you were carving out time to watch the fourth-place Orioles play the fourth-place Minnesota Twins over the weekend, you probably missed much of the drama that was playing out in Germany.

Take Saturday, for instance, when Paraguay scored the only goal of the game against England and lost, 1-0 ... or when Trinidad and Tobago took a raucous victory lap after playing heavily favored Sweden to a 0-0 tie.

England won on an "own goal" when a Paraguayan defender accidentally headed David Beckham's free kick past his own goalie. If you're a baseball fan who is still trying to make sense of all this, it was sort of the equivalent of the time that ball bounced off Jose Canseco's head for a home run.

Trinidad and Tobago, featuring former Howard University goalie Shaka Hislop, turned back scoring threat after scoring threat by the powerhouse team from Sweden and exploded in a celebration when the clock ran out.

Frankly, I don't understand why the Swedes were such a big favorite when they had to play both Trinidad and Tobago. Doesn't seem fair.

My interest in soccer dates to the late 1960s, when we used to play a variation of the game in junior high school. Obviously, I would have worked at it a little harder if I had known that it might get me one of the Spice Girls, but everybody at the time was concentrating on baseball.

Of course, it wasn't long before youth soccer started to compete with Little League for the hearts and minds of America's children, but it was too late for me. I would later steer my kids into the sport, until someone started spreading a nasty rumor that I was only in it for the moms.

That was ridiculous. I found the Little League moms just as attractive, and it was becoming apparent that the youth soccer explosion was not creating a new generation of adult "foot-heads." The traditional North American sports - baseball, football, basketball and (yeah, right) hockey - were continuing to hold market share, creating an Olympic mentality toward soccer in the United States.

Every four years, there is a surge in interest that quickly subsides, leaving the fans of D.C. United with no one to talk to at the water cooler.

I hope this World Cup is different, but I'm pretty sure that the typical American sports fan will continue to have trouble understanding the subtlety of a sport in which Argentina's 2-1 victory over Ivory Coast was considered a slugfest.

I have a friend who, when informed that Trinidad and Tobago had played to a scoreless tie with Sweden, suggested that they ought to raise the mound a few inches.

This is the kind of thing you have to put up with when you live in a backward place like Maryland, where they got bored with soccer about 300 years ago and started playing it with butterfly nets.

There is a small, dedicated soccer community, which meets secretly on the Eastern Shore to perform druidic rituals and worship Blast owner Ed Hale, but the lopsided emphasis on the Orioles and the Ravens - even in these tough times - makes it almost impossible for soccer to capture the imagination of mainstream Mid-Atlantic sports fans.

If it is any consolation, it does rank in popularity slightly ahead of Maryland's official sport - jousting - but only because fans of that medieval activity quickly lose interest when they realize the final score is always 1-0 and half the audience has to find a new favorite player after every match.

Soccer should be experiencing a major renaissance in this area, and try going to Google and finding another sports column with the words medieval and renaissance in it. The Blast just won the Major Indoor Soccer League championship and D.C. United is doing a healthy business at RFK Stadium.

World Cup fever is sweeping the globe and I have only one more thing to say:

Sure beats the bird flu. peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

"The Peter Schmuck Show" airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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