Why Belgium must beat the USA

Even though Germany defeated the USA last Thursday, the result couldn’t put a stop to British media chattering that this could be “the moment when soccer finally takes off in the USA.”

Please God, it isn’t. And God (if you’re listening) may Belgium’s victory tonight be enough to squash that desire, at least for another four years.

USA! USA!

Here we go, USA! Here we go!

As long as I can remember, British sports media have been obsessed with the idea that the USA should embrace football (I’ll be using the f-word rather than the s-word for the duration of this article, by the way) and have both celebrated the razzmatazz of the efforts to launch the game across the pond as much as looked on forlornly when the graft fails to take.

Why?

The majority of American sports fans know what they like, and it’s not football. It’s not part of their culture, and we can’t force it on them. And if we try to, it will continue to entrench them in the whole “soccer is a game for pansies, commies and surrender-monkeys” attitude.

But while the general US public continues largely to ignore it, what we in the majority soccer world are doing by continuing to court American favour is lowering the portcullis to big business to ride through on a fine Arab charger and ravish us. Find me anyone who will tell you that the entry of the Glazers, Randy Lerner or John Henry into the Premier League has been even a 50% success.

Big business plus soccer equals a sport where the norm is overpaid athletes, the cult of the individual over the team, club franchises, and a ‘win at all costs’ mentality.

“But that’s already started,” I hear you say. Yes, and that’s why we have to fight to stop it going further.

I’m not anti-American. (‘Some of my best friends etc…’) There is much to be admired in what the USA brings to the beautiful game: generous, friendly, un-cynical fans; role models and model professionals such as John Harkes, Clint Dempsey or Brad Friedel; and a way of playing that, to make up for lack of flair, is organised and well-drilled, but which doesn’t resort to diving, petulance, hard man tactics, or cheating to narrow the gap with more skilful opponents.

Also there is the idiosyncratic, but to me endearing, way they call the national side Team USA, they never have the same kit for two competitions in a row, and their commentators try to force American sports speak into the football vernacular, such as ‘outside back’, ‘shutout’, ‘in the six’ and ‘PKs’.

The ordinary game does seem to be getting a grip in the USA. Major League Soccer had the eighth highest average attendance worldwide in 2012 – higher than the top divisions in Brazil or Argentina amongst others.

So, let the US game – and its related football culture – develop at its own pace. If it becomes a game for children and women only, so be it. If it’s not as tough as hockey, as strategic as gridiron, or as high-scoring as the NBA, well fair enough: variety is good.

But, as for me, tonight I’ll be boosting Team Belgium.

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