Win or Lose Today at Azteca, Soccer in America has Already Won

Odd to say in win-obsessed America, but no matter the result in Mexico City later today, soccer in the United States has already won. While the first ever win by the U.S. Men’s National Team at the Azteca Stadium would be the icing on the cake, a cathartic summer of success has brought soccer into the mainstream of American sports, and importantly, sports media. I never thought I would hear the hourly national news bulletin on NPR reporting on a U.S. soccer match hours before kickoff. Soccer has truly arrived.

Being a soccer fan in America has been hard. Even though it is now by far the sport with the highest participation at youth level across the United States, soccer has never even come close to rivaling football, baseball, and basketball. Major network and cable coverage of the game has been virtually non-existent and print and broadcast media outlets have largely ignored soccer outside of major tournaments and events. And the disdain isn’t reserved to American media – most international media enjoy nothing more than ridiculing American soccer. Fans in the U.S. have been literally under siege.

But the difficulty of following soccer in America has fostered among its devotees a growing underground network of intensely loyal and knowledgeable fans. The Internet and soccer focused cable networks have brought unparalleled access to the world game for all those who choose to find it. And those kids that started playing soccer in large numbers in the 70’s are grown up now (that means me unfortunately) and have money to spend – and they are showing it. The most significant developments underlying the strength of soccer in America are happening off the field and this is why the sport can survive a defeat in Mexico.

Global soccer powers have been touring the United States in their summer pre-season for years, but this summer was different. From the first big game in Seattle when Chelsea squared off against the Sounders, American football stadiums have been packed with tens of thousands of fans decked out in hometown kit as well as Milan, Madrid, and Chelsea gear. The energy and atmosphere during the games belied any sense that they were mere exhibitions and demonstrated that there is now massive potential for U.S.-based support for soccer played at the highest level. Everyone noticed, most importantly ESPN and advertisers.

ESPN has a de facto sports media monopoly in the U.S. Of course the major networks broadcast football, baseball, and basketball games, but every sports fan goes to ESPN first and SportsCenter is to sports in America what Walter Cronkite was to the evening news – it defines and drives coverage, reporting, and viewership. And ESPN has clearly made a conscious effort to promote soccer. At least one great goal or save from around the world always makes the daily Top Ten Plays, always, and the sport now has a regular place on the omnipresent update trackers that run across the bottom of the screen on each of the network’s channels.

These off the field developments are the necessary predicate for on the field success. The emergence of soccer as a legitimate national sport in America will mean all those kids who play the game will see a future in the sport. All the best athletes play multiple sports as kids – I played soccer, baseball, and basketball but there was never any question that soccer would be the first sport I dropped as got older and better. I dreamed of a big league baseball career, but I can never remember even considering professional soccer even though I played on an elite traveling team. That’s because as far as I knew, there was no professional soccer. Now a kid from suburban Maryland plays for AC Milan.

Today is a day of many great first for soccer in America. I had never heard it promoted on NPR. The tiny channel that is broadcasting the game in English has forced its way on to every major cable television provider in the United States just for the day because demand was so high. ESPN is running a pre-game show even though it is not broadcasting the match on any of its networks, a first for soccer. Now go on boys, go out and get that first win in Azteca.


Donovan En Fuego

Watching the Galaxy Barca friendly one thing for sure is that Donovan’s confidence could not be higher. The obvious moment for me was not when he tourched Eider Gudjhansen and Pique, but when midway through the second half confronting three barca defenders he tried to go through them. It didn’t work but it should the sort of confidence and self-believe that he has lacked at times in his career. He was by far the best Galaxy player. Beckham scored but gave the ball away a lot and looked over matched- Donovan on the other hand looked like he belonged on the same field with Barca.

Match of the day: DC v. Houston

I bet an Englishman watching the first 30 minutes of this match would come away saying MLS is of a much lower quality. Thus far the game has less rhythm and flow than Karl Rove on the dance floor. But you can almost see the sweat pouring off the camera. The linesman looks like he had heat exhaustion 15 minutes in. Could you imagine an EPL team like Stoke playing in Houston in August – the Brits whine about the heat when its 65 and sunny.

But these are two good teams on any level. DC with Quaranta and Fred on the wings, Gomez in the middle, the cagey Moreno and the young starlet Chris Pontius make up a strong side. Houston has 3 USMNT players Rico Clark, Stuart Holden, and Brian Ching, as well as the talented Brad Davis. Houston looks to have a bit better handle on the game and have exposed DC on the wings. DC is just not possessing the ball very well.

Update: Brad Davis just scored a bizarre goal from distance. The DC keeper seemed to think it was a cross and watched it go past him into his side netting. He may not have seen it. But that is poor. You have to see that.

Update 2: Beaten near post by Ching – the keeper has to do better. Watching it again, it was a good strike, Namoff should closed down and recognized that Ching was not going to get past him. But Wicks the keeper went down and made himself small.

Update 3: Wow utter collapse. The 3-5-2 is showing its flaws. Holden with a great ball to the right back who pushed into space. He puts in a cross that doesn’t find his target but ends up making DC scramble and a good 1-2 and Ching has a clear shot on goal. He is making me eat my words.

43: DC can’t get anything going through the middle of the field. Gomez has been invisible and they can only all punt it up route 1.

Gomez makes an appearance and gets well deserved yellow. That sort of summed up the half for DC.

Its halftime and no joke Santino Quaranta and Brad Davis were asked who on their team looks best in a pair of chaps and who can ride a mechanical bull the longest. Stunning sports journalism.

Watching the second Ching goal again I think Namoff is really at fault. You can’t allow a striker a free shot on goal whether you are shadding him near post or not. Namoff has to challenge Ching there.

47th – GOAL…. how was he so open – bad shot, good deflection… wow. Davis walks into the DC 18 and botches it. Josh Wicks was running around with his eyes closed on that corner – he is having a shocker.

With the heat United is definitely not out if this. The defenses are both like swiss cheese right now.

Epiphany: Brian Ching is America’s Emile Heskey. He has his place, but come on, you really don’t want him on your national time.

Memo to Europe: Stuart Holden has a European passport. He is class.

Pausing as I get another beer…

57 good spell from United.

Good point made by the color commentator. United’s swtich from 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2 have given the wing players Santino and Fred more freedom to get forward.

Hate to say it. Moreno is looking his age. I love how keepers get angry when they are at fault. Get off your line Onsted.

Wow. That was a horrible penalty call he clearly got ball. Jakovic is right look at the video or get glasses. Where was the linesman. Wait the announcer said it was the “right call”. Are you kidding me he got ball before touching Orduro. Watch the replay. It wasn’t close. Disgusting. And that ruins what could have been a good finish.

Penalty update: Okay I owe a lot of people an apology – the striker did get a touch (a horrible touch at that) before the DC defender lunged in. Right call.

Dominic Kinnear – Houston’s coach – was caught audible yelling “fuckin simple” – and rightly so – at one his players who just passed the ball out of bounds.

GOALAZO…Pat “Just for men” Onstad loks on in disbelief. Jaime created the goal first by winning the ball then by demonstrating to Holden that he is bigger than him. A good chip to put Fred into space and a great shot from distance. This is still probably out of reach but 20 minutes is a lot of time.

My Direct Tv died, so I missed the third goal. DC showed some fight after going down 3 in the first half and put up three on the board in the second. The difference was the penalty. It was the right call in the end but very very close. MOM – Stuart Holden.