It's time for American sports fans to figure out what our kids already know – soccer is more fun. In his latest Against the Grain commentary, CBSNews.com's Dick Meyer gets a grip on the World Cup.
If you slept past 4:55 am (EDT) on Wednesday, June 5, you missed one of the great sports treats of a generation.
Of course, 99.9 percent of the country missed it too. And most of my newsroom colleagues think I'm nuts.
America's stunning, gorgeous 3-2 upset over Portugal in the first World Cup was one of the most gratifying and exciting wins I've ever watched. Period.
And like most people in this country, I watched it on TV alone in the pre-dawn darkness. It was still great. My family thinks I'm nuts.
Americans love to root for the underdogs. It's especially fun when the underdog is an American national team and the whole country is on the same side. Remember what a blast the Olympic hockey Dream Team from 1980 gave us?
This was nearly as good; but it wasn't a championship, just an opening match against a huge favorite in a sport that supposedly isn't ours. Maybe there's better yet to come.
One thing became clear. Americans now know how to produce better soccer players than soccer fans. Our team – eat your heart out rest of the world – is now world class; our fans are bush league. The Portuguese crowd drowned out the Americans until the final, quiet minutes even though the game was played in Korea.
But our young, homegrown players were nothing less than amazing.
Our first goal came from John O'Brien, a 24-year old boy next door from Los Angeles. The next one came from a 20- year old prodigy who plays in the MLS named Landon Donovan.
And the player of the match may well have been Fort Wayne, Indiana's DaMarcus Beasley, who at 126 lbs. is the smallest player in the whole World Cup tournament. He also happens to be just 20-years old. He seemed to beat everyone to the ball and when he ran you could see the skin of his face stretch with the g-force just like with sprinters Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson.
These kids were matched against a Portuguese team that was seeded fourth in the tournament and is led by Luis Figo, certainly one of the greatest players in the world today. The Americans have veterans of European leagues on the field too, but were missing two of their own stars from injuries, Claudio Reyna and Clint Mathis.
No American team has beaten a European team in the World Cup since they requalified for the tournament in 1990 after a 40-year absence. Since 1990, the U.S. has complied a 1-1-8 record. In 1998 we lost to Iran, Germany, and Yugoslavia and finished last.
I don't think that it is going to happen again, much to the world's chagrin.
Soccer is now the second most played (not watched) sport in the U.S. for 6- to 17-year olds, behind only basketball. Soccer is the big sport for kids in Washington, where I live, and in many other communities across the country. The sheer numbers of healthy, well fed players mean that America will produce stars and competitive national teams from now on. That's true even if soccer doesn't enter the professional fans' radar screen.
And soccer is the first team sport to really take off with girls and women. When my daughter watched the women's team win the 1999 World Cup, she saw something her mother never saw when she was a girl - an American women's team having a truly glorious, high-profile sports triumph.
So America will take its place in international soccer and that is exactly what the rest of the world fears. It's not that soccer isn't commercialized the way American sports are. It is. It's just as gross. But it's different. In many ways.
When you watch a soccer game, you watch two 45-minute halves played with absolutely no commercial interruption. And there are no time outs, even for injuries.
The officiating, though sometimes controversial, doesn't stop the game every two seconds and intrude on the rhythm of the match. For these reason alone, soccer is the only sport I can watch on TV anymore – except for when the Chicago Bears are playing and that is biological.
The rest of the world worries that Americans will find ways to make more money off the game by forcing changes in the game. I sympathize.
The rest of the world also worries that America will homogenize the game just like McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken homogenized food.
Spanish soccer is different than German soccer which is different than Brazilian.
And soccer fans are deeply loyal to their local teams, big and small, in a way that is disappearing here. A big part of that is free agency; players don't stick around long enough for the fans to know them. Yes, soccer players, or at least stars, change teams and are paid grostesque amounts of money. But the turnover is nothing like in baseball, football and basketball. The very idea of "team" in those sports is just about kaput.
The rest of the world worries that big, rich America will come to dominate the soccer business like it has with so many other businesses.
But, geez lou-weez, it was fun to beat Portugal.
Dick Meyer, a veteran political and investigative producer for CBS News, is Editorial Director of CBSNews.com based in Washington.
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Against the Grain
By Dick Meyer
Copyright 2002 CBS. All rights reserved.