Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The US Should Embrace Soccer, But Not Because of Beckham, by Sara Hatch

David Beckham is coming to the US. He’s been a very gifted soccer player for both the England National team and various European clubs. He’s also losing his gifts and is playing at nowhere near the level required to be a star in Europe. Any soccer fan that pays of a modicum of attention to the sport worldwide has seen the Beckham move coming for months. Still, there’s been plenty of talk about the possibility of him reviving the MLS and therefore soccer’s popularity in this country. This misses the point though, because the best way for Americans to get into soccer isn’t MLS; it’s the World Cup.

The World Cup is the best fit for a society that already has overlapping major league sports. It comes once every four years in splashes of over-exuberance. European papers drone on endlessly about the relative merits of their national teams, with at least one bemoaning the horrible tragedy it is that their team, obviously the best in Europe, didn’t make it to the final tournament.

The World Cup also comes during the peak of summer. Any veteran sports fan knows that pretty much the only thing going on at that time is the doldrums of baseball, the time when it really doesn’t matter yet who’s winning what. There’s no other serious competition in the sports world that can hinder one from tuning into the World Cup. Unless, of course, you watch a lot of golf, but that’s a whole problem in and of itself. And in recent years the games have become easier to watch: in 2006, every game was shown in its entirety and on ESPN or ABC, whereas before American audiences could only watch parts of games, and then only on cable.

But probably the best thing about the World Cup is its character. It’s all about the good kind of patriotism, a word I’ve found it hard to espouse in the past few years. When I sit in front of a TV with thousands of screaming fans in some sold out stadium somewhere in the world and watch the American team (which has competed in the last two Cups and should into the future) run up and down the field I can’t help but be proud of my country.

The World Cup is truly global and the stories it produces can’t be repeated. In the 2006 World Cup, the warring factions in Cote D’Ivoire declared a truce when their team reached the tournament. Talk about bringing people together. For all the good things the World Series and the Super Bowl do, they’ve never reunited a war-torn African nation.

Those who really love soccer (and anyone who’s ever lived for any amount of time in Europe) might call it a travesty that a fan only follows the World Cup. But for a nation with too many sports, I’d call it more than progress if they could get behind that much. One month every four years…and the best competition you’ll ever see.

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