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Jon Mark Beilue column - Posted June 27, 2014 noon
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The World Cup – I’m all in, possibly

The World Cup is a little more than two weeks old now, so I may have already lost interest in soccer, especially if our Yanks were sent packing early as they are so good at doing.

But I entered the world’s biggest sporting event – so big that it can only be held every four years – with the notion I was going to by golly follow the action. I was going to give it my best football-hasn’t-started-and-the-Rangers-are-struggling-so-what-else-is-there-to-do-in-June-and-July shot at following futbol.

Lots of people love it. Like billions. Fans are killed over the game. Refs attacked. Sounds like the good old days of the Texas-Oklahoma Red River Shootout.

Of course, none live in this country. And that’s the thing, and always has been. Soccer, for all its popularity among youth leagues and in high school, for its pockets of fans that religiously follow the English Premier League and other such locales, has just never grabbed America’s sports-obsessed attention span for very long.

The soccer explosion in the U.S. has been rumored since the 1970s. There’s an occasional blip – anyone remember the U.S. women winning the 1999 World Cup? – where soccer is supposed to take a major foothold, and then football kicks off and we forget all about it.

Even my computer spell-check knows what’s up. I tried writing fut – foot – futba – football – FUTBOL! in the second paragraph and it kept changing to football.

Bet no one in front of their desktop in England has that issue. But in virtually every country in both hemispheres soccer is king. This might seem like the time for the old joke about how to tell if soccer is big in your country.

If your leader wears sunglasses all the time, soccer is big. If there are livestock running loose on a dirt street, soccer is big.

But I’m not going there. Soccer is the global sport. We’re the outlier. It’s huge everywhere but in the U.S. of A. where it’s treated with passionate interest by a few and casual or no interest by most.
Why do national radio sports talk hosts seldom talk about soccer? Because they want to remain employed. Talking soccer is ratings death. They would talk about cricket if it got listeners, but soccer doesn’t move the dial unless it’s down.

We’re different. The sports plate for Americans is full. It’s spilled over the sides and falling off the table. There’s no room for anything more.

I can’t imagine high school athletics being anything close in other countries as it is here. Do you think colleges in Argentina – are there colleges in Argentina? – have the gluttony of sports and full stadiums and arenas like in the U.S.? No way.

Then add the NFL, NBA, Major League baseball, golf, NASCAR and our cup runneth over – and that doesn’t even include the participatory recreational sports. There’s only so much time and energy to devote for even the biggest sports fan.

It’s not that soccer isn’t a worthy sport that requires conditioning, skill, teamwork, instincts, and coordination even if I hardly understand any of it. It does. But for Americans to embrace soccer, they’re going to have to knock to the curb a few other sports that compete for their time that those in other countries don’t have.

And, for the past 238 years, Americans have resisted that temptation. So on these shores, soccer will always be a niche sport, like most Olympic sports.

That niche is the one month of the World Cup. So I’ve made a good faith effort to go all-in. It would help if someone could explain the nuances, strategy and roles for each position to give me a better appreciation of the sport.

I wouldn’t expect me to blow into those annoying Vuvuzelas like the South Africans in 2010, or put a hit out on one of our players like in Columbia in 1994. But an added understanding would be helpful.

My understanding of soccer is as follows: (1) it’s a match, not a game; (2) nil means zero; (3) a 2-nil match means it’s over; that’s an insurmountable lead; (4) no one can fake an injury like a soccer player – no one; they make an American basketball player faking a charging look like a rank amateur; (5) that extra time to end a match, where no one really knows how much time is left, is bizarre.
So paint my face, and wrap me in a flag. I’m a big-time soccer fan – that is until July 22 when the Cowboys open training camp.


by Jon Mark Beilue

Jon Mark Beilue is an award-winning columnist for AGN Media. He can be reached at jon.beilue@amarillo.com or (806) 345-3318.
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