World Cup sparks US interest in beautiful game

Half-time and things are looking bleak for the United States as they trail Slovenia 2-0 in their vital World Cup match.

Last Updated: Jun 19, 2010, 10:24 AM IST

Washington: Half-time and things are looking
bleak for the United States as they trail Slovenia 2-0 in
their vital World Cup match.

The owner of the Lucky Bar feels the need to lift the
spirits of 250 supporters crammed into the pub and springs
into the action.

Soon Bruce Springsteen`s "Born In the USA" is blaring out
before the owner grabs a microphone to exhort his customers:
"Hey, wait, it`s not over."

The ESPN television match commentator is in agreement.
"If they can score one goal, Slovenia will be a little bit
shaky".

Sam Spencer, a 21-year-old student who has played
football since he could walk, is refusing to give up hope.

"If North Korea can score one goal against Brazil, we can
score two goals against Slovenia," Spencer says.

Two minutes later, Spencer`s optimism is repaid as the
Americans score, and the bar breaks out chant in unison:
"U-S-A! U-S-A!." By the time the 90 minutes are up, the US has
clawed their way back to 2-2 and a share of the spoils.

In the capital of a country where baseball, basketball
and American football remain king, the World Cup is granting
exposure to a sport which is often viewed as a poor relation
despite the fact that it remains the biggest sport in terms of
participation in America.

"Soccer in the US is not big but there is a culture. It`s
growing because all the kids play soccer," says Bill
Klotzbucher.

Yet according to Spencer, America will be major power
eventually.

"It`s still a kid sport because all kids play soccer ...
We will wake-up. We dominate Olympics and many other sports.
Our day will come."

If the comments of a soldier watching the USA-England
match at an army base in Afghanistan last week are anything to
go by, that day might be some way off.

"I didn`t know there was a World Cup of football," the
American said, evidently confusing his domestic sport of
gridiron with the festival of soccer watched by billions
across the globe every four years.

The day after the match, which ended in a hard-fought
draw, the New York Post trumpeted the ironic headline: "US
wins 1-1."

The Lucky Bar`s Scottish manager Paul Lusty, a devoted
football fan, is not surprised by American sports fans`
enthusiasm for the nation`s World Cup team.

"They just support the country whatever the sport," Lusty
says. "They have a hard time understanding the rules, like you
for baseball."

Yet since the 1994 World Cup, a phenomenally successful
event which played to sold out stadia across the country,
football in the United States has gone from strength to
strength.

"I think the World Cup in `94 was my first major exposure
to international soccer," says Sujeet Rao.

"I was 12 at the time, and a few of the games were played
in my home town in Michigan, including the now-famous
USA-Switzerland game, where Eric Wynalda scored from an
amazing free kick."

"I was studying abroad in Spain during the 2002 World
Cup, and that`s when I started to realize how big a deal the
World Cup was around the world," he adds.

In recent years, the domestic US league has also enjoyed
a spurt of attention through the arrival of English superstar
David Beckham and Mexico`s Cuauhtemoc Blanco.

This year for example, the Seattle Sounders Major League
Soccer team has enjoyed an average attendance of 36,000 fans
per game, figures which would be the envy of clubs in
established European leagues.

"We`re a country of 300 million people, all the children
and latino-Americans play football. We already dominate the
Olympic Games and we`re not bad at other sports," says
Spencer. "By around 2020 or 2025, we`ll win the World Cup."

PTI