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Charles Cuttone


December 5, 2009
Draw does matter to many

To read or hear certain comments in the media the last few days, you’d think no one in the United States cared about Friday’s World Cup Draw in South Africa.

Don’t tell that to the folks who gathered in Nevada Smith’s in New York or Fado’s in Philadelphia or La Huasteca and ESPN Zone in Los Angeles.

Sure, watching South Africa-born actress Charlize Theron pull ping pong balls out of a brandy snifter might not be your idea of entertainment, but then again, watching someone eat live worms on a “deserted” island isn’t my idea of entertainment either,

Besides, the draw must have been important. Why else would ESPN, the self-professed World Wide Leader in Sports, devote two hours to it?

That fact alone shows how far the sport has come in this country over the past 20 years. The draw for the 1990 World Cup, the first one the U.S. was playing in in 40 years, was scarcely reported, let alone shown live on television.

Same goes for the games from Italy. Finding the handful of telecasts that Turner carried that year was no easy task. A good tip to a bartender to change the channel on a corner TV was usually required.

Every game from South Africa will be shown on ESPN next year. The Disney-owned network also will ship off its Sports Center crew to do their nightly newscast from there. So someone must think the World Cup is important, or that soccer has made it here.

On the local NBC news in New York the other night, the news anchor asked the sportscaster why soccer hasn’t made it in the U.S. The “educated” answer was that if David Beckham can’t save it nothing can.

That’s been the problem with the sport for a long time. Those inside and out have had a messiah complex. Ever since Pele, the U.S. has been looking for a new savior. The 1994 World Cup, Freddy Adu, David Beckham, who knows who or what is next.

Fact of the matter is, soccer is very popular in the U.S. Millions of fans flocked to see games this summer. They just weren’t Major League Soccer games, although MLS did directly and indirectly profit from many of those events.

It’s hard to say whether the glass if half empty or half full. It really depends on whether the glass was empty or full to begin with.

No doubt, if you compare where the sport was 40 years ago to where it is now, the glass is half full. I might point out that football only “made” it in this country 50 years ago, and more football leagues in this country have failed than soccer leagues.

The U.S. National team has consistently improved. Twenty years ago, just qualifying for the World Cup was seen as a major victory. Now U.S. fans expect to qualify. Look at all the heat coach Bob Bradley was under when the team was struggling in qualifying. Now, with the luck of Friday’s draw, which has the U.S. in the same group with England, Slovenia and Algeria, the talk is centered on moving onto the second round. Even the opposing coaches think the U.S. will advance.

For those outside the sport still looking for a savior, how about the United States’ first game in the World Cup against England? David Beckham (maybe) against Landon Donovan. How’s that for a big time, made for TV event? Two superstars who play for the same club team, who have had some bad blood between them only to put it aside and lead their club back to the playoffs and the championship game.

Me, I’ll just relish in the fact that I will be able to watch Slovenia play Algeria.

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