"Is this about soccer again? Really?"
It's a running joke I have with one of my friends. He's a rabid soccer fan who travels everywhere to see the U.S. National Team play the kind of crazily committed "football" fan we typically only see in Europe or South America. He's always sending out e-mails and links and texts when some big soccer-related development takes place. I usually reply sarcastically.
I kid him, of course, because most of us don't take soccer in the U.S. nearly as seriously as we take our (American) football, baseball and basketball. There's no dispute about that, and I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that personally, I can't ever see soccer supplanting football or baseball in my family (I feel like I've been watching and loving and obsessing over these two quintessentially American sports ever since I was born, and I'm sure I will, gladly, until I die) but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't give soccer a chance.
I'm not saying you need to go out and buy a Team USA jersey this afternoon, start talking about pitches and corner kicks, and make sure you tune in for every game of the World Cup when it begins on June 11.
But maybe listen to Landon Donovan, the most recognizable face of the American team and a guy, by the way, who's been called the best U.S. soccer player ... ever.
Donovan sat down with us for a one-on-one interview in Los Angeles this month, and I have to say he was a pleasure. He takes a very realistic view of where soccer is in the United States, and where it might be headed. He's not under the impression the 2010 World Cup in South Africa will represent a breakthrough for soccer in the States, no matter how well the national team plays. Remember, the World Cup took place in this country in 1994, and it wasn't able to usher in some dramatic re-organization of American sporting priorities.
Donovan, to his credit, takes a much more long-term view. He says if soccer is ever going to compete legitimately with football and baseball here, it's not going to be for decades, at best. Kids need to play the game, their kids need to play, and so on down the line. Generation after generation, watching and loving and learning the sport that is often called "the beautiful game."
That's not all he said. Donovan also addressed the extraordinary adulation he recently received in England, while playing in the ultra-exclusive English Premier League, a stunning 10-week stint this winter that got him plenty of international attention. And he (rather unsympathetically) embarrassed a certain correspondent while giving a humbling lesson in penalty kicks.
I hope you can join us tonight on the CBS Evening News, Saturday edition, for our latest "Weekend Journal" story, featuring Landon Donovan, an American superstar in a sport that still hasn't become a featured star in America.