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WHAT IF? WHAT IF?
27 Mar 2001, 20:40 (EDT)
by Jeff Plunkett--WITH THE U.S. Men's National team battling for a spot at the 2002 World Cup, Soccer365's Jeff Plunkett took a moment to speculate about What If? What If the U.S. broke through to win it all or what if they failed to
While the final CONCACAF qualifying round has just begun, the U.S. is well positioned at the top of the standings after downing border rival Mexico on February 28th. The pessimist would say, however, that on a cold night in Columbus, we got lucky, and that once we took to the road the trend would end.
Over the next nine games of qualifying we will struggle to manufacture goals, especially in our home games against defensive-minded visitors, and finish with a record of two wins, two losses, and six ties. Our twelve total points won't be enough, and our seven total goals embarrassing.
The failure to qualify will force Bruce Arena to find a new employer and make many of the old guard, Jeff Agoos, Claudio Reyna, et al, consider retiring from the international game, not to mention giving soccer naysayers more ammunition to try and belittle the game, making arguments such as their favorite that soccer is “too boring.”
For about a week, people will overreact and call the team's failure “the end of the MLS” and “a blow to the future of American soccer.” Then the most of America will forget about it.
We, the soccer community, would react the way any family reacts to a disappointment. We'd grieve as we watch the final round of the cup imagining what could have been, and then we'd try to learn something from the experience and move on.
I'm sure we'd tinker with youth programs and re-ignite the always-elusive “style of play” debate. But the fact of the matter is that good teams (with far-prouder soccer traditions than our own) sometimes fail to qualify. France didn't qualify in 1990 or 1994 and look where they are now.
The deranged optimist would say why follow France's lead and fail to qualify for 2 Cups before winning in 2010!
The Mexico match has given the U.S. nothing but more confidence that will help them to cruise through the final round winning all their home matches and losing only once in Azteca Stadium.
Once in Korea and Japan, the U.S. will continue to show nations from around the world their A-game and battle through the “group of death”, and then, gritty and opportunistic, marches through the final four rounds to pull off the unthinkable.
Without a doubt, this would be the biggest moment in the history of American sports. Yes, even bigger than 1980's Miracle on Ice.
As a country we are quick to embrace any international triumph as a symbol of our greatness – e.g. the women's World Cup victory. If the men's team makes a run at the Cup, there's no doubt America will go crazy.
But Americans are as quick to jump off the bandwagon, as they are to jump on. And when the tournament and the People magazine articles and all the requisite parades come to an end so too will the support from most of the country.
You don't have to be a soccer fan to cheer for the US against Iran, or the US against Brazil, but you do to cheer for the Kansas City Wizards against the San Jose Earthquakes. Support for the US national team is not necessarily support for US soccer. It's called patriotism.
But a victory would yield some interesting by-products. The most important for the promotion of the sport domestically would be a legitimate star. From Beckenbauer to Maradona to Baggio to Romario to Zidane every winning team has a hero. And that's precisely what American soccer is missing, a Michael Jordan or a Tiger Woods, a personality that transcends the game - a player with the power to convert non-believers.
The irony of course is that while a championship would produce such a player, America would rarely get to see him play. In fact, most of the championship team would head to Europe (if they're not already there.)
The MLS simply cannot compete with the level of play, or the level of pay, of the European leagues. America would be stripped of its stars… and there's no chance mainstream America will follow the Bundesliga or the Premiership or Serie A simply because several Americans are playing.
A sport needs to generate passion for it to enter mainstream America. And the truth of the matter is that winning the World Cup can't instill passion in people who don't understand the magnitude of the victory. Passion stems from an emotional attachment with the players and the game and the history of the sport.
But I will concede that while a US victory won't generate that passion for non-soccer fans, it could plant the seed. And for those of us who have already embraced the game, it would be one hell of a party.