US Soccer: One step forward, two steps back

By Gus Bode

It was a thriller in Honduras Saturday as the U.S. national team clinched a spot for its sixth-straight World Cup with one of the best qualifying matches in past memory. Too bad only a handful of people could watch it in the U.S.

One of the most important matches for the national team was only shown in select bars because of a bizarre FIFA rule that grants television rights to the home team, and Honduras chose not to give the rights to any American outlets.

Instead, a select amount of bars obtained the rights with a closed-circuit deal for the game and charged all patrons $20 to watch.


And that $20 was not to drown away the pain of paying to watch soccer.

Once again, the national soccer team accomplished a feat met with a mere shrug in its homeland.

ESPN, as if to spite the Honduras television providers, decided to relegate the game to a bottom scroll. Watching SportsCenter on Sunday, one could not be blamed for not knowing a match happened Saturday, let alone one that guaranteed America a ticket to the World Cup in South Africa next year.

It’s the major problem for the American soccer team: Every time it has a chance to put the elusive spotlight on the sport, its poor performance or the powers-that-be have dashed any hopes.

Just several months ago people were on the verge of actually caring about soccer after the U.S. somehow pulled off the upset over the No. 1 Spaniards in the Confederation Cup.

The sport almost completed its decades-old climb to American prominence the next match when the U.S. almost pulled off the upset against Brazilians, who are so talented they only need to go by a single name – such as Prince.

But head coach Bob Bradley decided the best way to hold on to the improbable 2-0 lead was to completely back off offense, curl up in a ball and pray the Brazilians missed every shot. Unfortunately, the Brazilians had no problem scoring three straight goals en route to a 3-2 victory.


And just like that, the American’s flirtation with soccer ended.

The sport went into obscurity faster than the news of Jon and Kate’s inevitable divorce. Everybody went back to baseball and ‘American’ football, and not an extra second was spent on the sport everybody else in the world loves.

And now, once again, the powers-that-be decided soccer will have to wait another time to be cared about. The U.S.-Honduras match could have gone either way for America. Win, they go to South Africa next year. Lose, they have an almost must-win game Wednesday against a solid Costa Rica team broadcasted live on ESPN.

Now they’ll be on TV, but they won’t have anything to play for.’ The most passive viewers could not be blamed for dismissing a possibly indifferent American team as national embarrassments; they did the last time they were on TV.

On the scale of worth, soccer ranks somewhere between leather chaps and mullets for most Americans. In defense of Americans, there are so many other games to follow on our side of the pond. With baseball, basketball, football, hockey and NASCAR, it’s tough finding time to squeeze some soccer in there.

But is sending our team to the most watched sporting event in the world not a big deal? From initial reactions to this weekend, there doesn’t seem to be much interest.

So for the sixth-straight time, the U.S. will send its best and brightest to the World Cup in hopes of surprising the world. Hopefully, this time they will be on TV.