USA Soccer fans pack into Fourth Street Live to watch the USA vs. Portugal game on the big screen.
Soccer fans cheer after The Star Bangled banner is played at Fourth Street Live
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- It's not scientific, it's just a feeling. But it would seem based on the way a lot of my friends are talking, (and by talking I mean Tweeting) that soccer (and by that I mean the World Cup) is establishing itself as a thing in this country.
That is to say, a thing to be followed and discussed, rather than derided and ignored by a segment of sports fans who once dismissed the event, and the sport.
Let's just put it this way. After Portugal scored a goal in the sixth minute of last night's 2-2 tie with the United States, I had friends talking about a "bad clearance" who just a couple of weeks ago would only have used that term to discuss a disappointing sale at K-Mart.
Both of Louisville's local morning sports talk radio shows spent significant time on soccer this morning. That didn't happen four years ago. In the city of Louisville, despite Time Warner Cable losing its ESPN high definition satellite feed during the game, Nielsen Co. overnights show that the U.S.-Portugal game won its time spot, beating even "60 Minutes." The overall national ratings are trending upwards, thanks in part to ESPN's promotion.
There are people in this country ready to send Michael Bradley home who only a month ago didn't know who he was. I at least can be among those who wanted to send him home long before, only to come to appreciate him recently.
I can't claim to follow the sport passionately. I wish I watched more of the Premier League, especially since NBC is showing so many games, but work and travel seemed to conspire against me this past season.
It's true, I tell people, sportswriting is not entirely the best job to have if you want to watch sports. The things that happen while you're covering the game you're assigned are usually historic and occasionally legendary.
But that's another column.
There's no point in me being one of these guys who rolls in and acts like he knows what was going on in Bradley's mind in the final minute of last night's meltdown when he lost the ball in the midfield and left the door open for Christiano Renaldo's brilliant pass to Silvestri Valera for a header that evened the score on the last touch of the game in stoppage time.
(Note to reader: The term "stoppage time" is unavaoidable, because that's what it is. I'll not use the term "equalizer" here. But feel free to use it yourself.) The resulting tie kept the U.S. from locking down a spot in the World Cup's Round of 16.
I do know this: Between the two Portugal goals, the Americans played some of the best soccer I've seen in international competition from this country.
My complaint about American soccer for a while is that it looked like our guys learned to play from a book. The game is so much more instinctive to players from elsewhere.
But that hesitance, that lack of comfort (and I'm sure I exaggerate it in my head, somewhat) was nowhere to be found last night. The U.S. team played with purpose. It passed with precision after a shaky start. It probably deserved to be ahead by more late, but had some bad luck finishing on a few chances.
This looked like a real soccer team.
The U.S. conceded two careless goals. But otherwise it was outstanding. Now, I know, in this country, we're all about the final result. But after watching the U.S. play less-than-stellar soccer in a win over Ghana, to watch this team dictate terms against Portugal was fun.
My soccer education came by baptismal immersion. As a young writer, I was plopped down in Evansville, Ind., and they were serious about the sport. I have clippings of game stories from scoreless girls' high school games to prove it.
The coach at the Division II school in town, Tony Colavecchia, would go on to become the coach at the University of Louisville. I covered all their home games, and he would call to do phone interviews from road games.
It was from those phone calls that I learned the most. It was always amusing to me that Tony talked in terms of "fair results" and "unfair result."
That is to say, the score sometimes reflected how well or poorly the team played, sometimes not. It can be a maddening game that way, but it's also a game in which a hopelessly outmanned side still has a chance, if it can create an opportunity or two and finish. The more you watch the game, the more you appreciate such things.
An American columnist in Boston was blasting the World Cup because there weren't breaks to go to the bathroom. What? Have we reached the point where we need commercial breaks? The lack of a break is something that appeals to me, as is the running clock. There's no opportunity for a coach to stop the game every couple of minutes and tell guys what to do. If you want to substitute, you'd better think twice about it. Your chances are limited.
So, it would appear, there's a place for soccer in American sports media. I hope so. It represents variety, and isn't completely consumed with our own traditions and ways of doing things.
I don't know what it portends in the media once the World Cup is over. But clearly, interest in the World Cup over the airwaves has kicked up a notch.