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July 2, 2014

LOPRESTI: Americans starting to see World Cup light

CLARKSVILLE — The soccer team from the United States has come and gone, but the vapor trail of popularity remains.

Just how did the World Cup become hotter viewing in this country than The Bachelorette?

This might help. You’re just in time for my confession at the weekly meeting of Soccer Haters Anonymous.

“Hi, my name is Mike and I was a soccer hater. But I have been soberly following the World Cup for three weeks (encouraging applause from the gathering). The other day, I found myself sitting down and watching Honduras-Switzerland (thunderous ovation).

Like all of us here, I remember the dark days when I considered a soccer match one step up from root canal work. I remember thinking that I had seen the bottom of civilization when I read of a riot after a 0-0 draw. They called it football, but it wasn’t. How can it be football without halftime bands?

But the past month, the nation has gone soccer happy, and me, too. (Nods of approval from my fellow SHA members). One reason is almost certainly the pace and time of the matches.

Baseball can move like a glacier. College football games can dawdle on toward four hours. You can grow old in the final two minutes of a college or NBA basketball game. Those sports seem incapable or unwilling to do anything about their sometimes ridiculous length of games. In this age of tight schedules and short attention spans, they become almost unwatchable on TV.

But the clock never stops in soccer, and you can almost set your watch to the precise moment a match will end. It’s such a nicer world with no TV timeouts.

The noise and the color and the global fervor mean something, too. It’s easy to get emotionally invested. For example, given my ancestry, I ached when the team from Italian lost, after the knucklehead from Uruguay bared his teeth and treated one of the Italians like he was a slice of pepperoni pizza.

Plus, there aren’t many sports when we Yanks are the Hickory Huskers. We’re not the lovable underdogs too often. But in soccer, we have to sweat it out against Ghana, and we’re David the giant killer when we try to bring down Belgium. Kind of refreshing.

But I would caution the true soccer believers not to assign all the recent hysteria to a sudden mass love affair with watching the game itself, and expect it to remain bubbling after the World Cup is over. The MLS is not going to sweep past the NFL. Starting in a few weeks, football is back to the one with touchdowns. A lot of the passion among casual fans has to do with simply pulling for our guys. Remember, millions watch curling every four years, too, if the USA has a gold medal shot. They won’t be back screaming for offsides against Portugal until 2018.

Plus, there are some things about soccer I still think are goofy (an understanding nod of the heads from other members).

I get tired of players going down as if they’ve been shot by a .44 magnum, trying to draw a foul. When it comes to flopping, soccer makes the NBA look like a pack of amateurs. Fine them. Hand them a yellow card — or maybe a Screen Actors Guild card. Do something.

I don’t understand why the amount of stoppage time added at the end is such an inexact secret. Several World Cup games have been decided by stoppage time goals, and that crucial slice of minutes and seconds is more or less made up by the referee as he goes along. In basketball, the officials go to the monitor to decide if 3.6 seconds are left, or is it really 3.4? In soccer, it’s all a guess.  The NSA doesn’t know how much exact time is left, or why.

But that’s quibbling. I have seen the World Cup light and do not intend to fall off the bandwagon, even with the Americans out. Yes, I am a past soccer hater, but I’ll be watching Brazil-Columbia (a number of members shout out they will, too. Ain’t group therapy great?).

See you next week.


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