On Friday, the United States of America played in a very important international sporting event.
The U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team played Colombia in its first game of the Copa America tournament, losing 2-0. Although Colombia is a great team right now — FIFA ranks it 3rd in the world — America is not used to losing in international tournaments. But after this loss, there was oddly not much lamentation. In fact, unless you follow these happenings religiously, it’s entirely possible that you didn’t know it happened. I admit I didn’t even know this result until the next day.
Even the U.S. National Coach Jurgen Klinsmann was eerily relaxed about the whole thing. One of his post-game comments was, “It was beautiful to see all the yellow jerseys and all the U.S. jerseys. I hope they enjoyed the evening.”
On Tuesday, I had the privilege of attending one of these games myself. The U.S. was facing Costa Rica at Soldier Field in Chicago, and I convinced my dad to take me. Having spent the summer of 2014 in Costa Rica during its impressive and unexpected run in the World Cup, I proclaimed myself a Costa Rica fan for the night. Thinking about it now, it’s funny that I would decide to support the country where I spent one great summer over the country I have spent almost 20 great years.
In my Costa Rica jersey, I got on the train expecting to run into a hoard of soccer fans as we approached downtown. To my surprise, I only saw a few other people wearing USA jerseys during my commute. In the fall and summer, Cubs and Bears jerseys crowd public transportation — but that day it was a sports ghost town.
Staring at the half-empty stadium, with totally vacant upper level seats, I pondered why soccer is a huge phenomenon globally but can’t garner the same enthusiasm in the United States.
In general, the U.S. has a larger number of sports between which we Americans have to split our attention than other countries — such as American football, basketball and hockey. Most of these sports are focused on big, showy plays — a Hail Mary to score on fourth down or a last second buzzer-beater — while much of the fascination in soccer is found in the intricacies of small play. You have to pay attention to the series of short passes or virtually unnoticeable foot skills to really appreciate the game’s beauty.
Soccer is also a low-scoring game. A goal is worth one point, and to score one you have to kick it into a relatively small net, past someone trained to stop it. All too boring for the American audience — no dunking or anything like that.
Another factor is that it’s possible for a soccer game to end in a tie, which happens quite often. This ambiguous ending is not preferred by Americans who need a clear winner and loser. From a more capitalist point of view, there is no stoppage of play, which means there is no time for commercial breaks. The only advertisements during a soccer game are at halftime. Whichever TV station decides to broadcast a soccer game must accept the fact that they will be playing about 100 minutes of straight footage without making much money.
With all this being said, the enthusiasm in the stands was palpable, even though the crowd was very small. One section behind the goal opposite me was full of U.S. fans doing synchronized cheers and waving matching scarves. Mainly, us Americans like to win, and win we did, 4-0. For those who can put aside soccer’s “flaws,” like the fans I saw at the game, following the U.S.’s run at the Copa America should be entertaining. Those fans at the game show promise for a sport that would likely do well on American soil with more public support but for now remains in the backdrop as the enigmatic worldwide obsession.
Contact Lucy Schaefer at [email protected].