Plaschke misses mark in discussing evolution of American soccer

Polarizing Los Angeles Times writer Bill Plaschke has worked his magic once again, this time in demanding more from American soccer fans. Essentially, Plaschke believes we should have expected a win over Algeria, instead of going absolutely bonkers when Landon Donovan knocked in the game-winning goal.

You see, we’ve been here before. But, this being soccer, we just don’t act like it.

I am as thrilled as anyone about Donovan’s extra-time goal to beat Algeria and give the U.S. its first group victory in World Cup history. I screamed. I jumped. It was cool.

But I just can’t understand why everyone is tearfully acting as if it were another Miracle on Ice. I can’t understand why we continually diminish soccer — and thus inhibit its growth — by continually setting its expectations so low in the face of opposing evidence so thick.

The miracle is that, after six consecutive World Cup appearances including that final-eight showing in 2002, we still go crazy over early World Cup success.

The miracle is that, in a country where you can’t leave your home on a Saturday morning without encountering at least one child wearing a baggy soccer uniform and clutching a juice box, we’re still acting as if soccer is some newfangled cult activity.

This miracle is that, even against a team that did not score a goal in three World Cup games and has never advanced past the group stage, we insist on celebrating like the underdog.

Plaschke almost has a point, but by narrowly missing his mark the whole column loses any value.

He needs to understand that just because much of American youth grows up playing soccer, it doesn’t mean that these children will follow the sport when they’re older. After finishing high school, most have fully-embraced MLB, the NFL and/or the NBA. If one is to continue following soccer, they have two options: 1) the mediocre MLS and its even more mediocre coverage or 2) the sporadic airplay of international league soccer.

True, America has boasted some of the best players in the world over the last 20 years. However, they usually don’t end up playing in the MLS. Instead, they are scooped up by leagues overseas. Although the talent-level is increasing, MLS play is far weaker than its international counterparts. The eyeballs just aren’t there. Americans are watching soccer now, but the other 35 months when the World Cup isn’t on they’re focused on the other sports.

This lends to the fact that America is uneducated when it comes to soccer. I know I am. We are favored to defeat Ghana later today, but how are Americans supposed to expect a victory when they are barely familiar with the players and have never experienced a World Cup championship? Plaschke is a tad unnerved that we lost our collective poo at the end of the U.S./Algeria match. We should have been prepared for a victory, he thinks.

No. The reason everybody was jumping up and down, hugging and screaming as if they had just won the lottery, was because of circumstance — not because the U.S. was favored. In our second game, a referee stole away a victory from the U.S. by calling a phantom penalty. In the third game, a referee called offsides during a goal that was completely legal, leaving the score tied heading into stoppage time.

When Landon Donovan touched in that goal to send the U.S. into the knockout round, was it because he was supposed to do so? Absolutely not. The goal seemed like a gift from above, as if God was letting America know he had just been toying with us. The way things had been going, it felt like we weren’t going to advance. It was luck we didn’t have, not talent.

No matter how far the U.S. goes this year, the hysteria will happen again because the excitement is presented as something new. For four years we will have no idea how talented our national team is, but when the World Cup arrives will be glued to the screen, even though we expect nothing.


Photo from fOTOGLIF

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