Frierson: U.S. soccer fans upset with team first, then ref

Frierson: U.S. soccer fans upset with team first, then ref

June 19th, 2010 by John Frierson in Opinion Columns

CHICAGO - It's 10 o'clock Friday morning here in the Windy City and I'm in a place called McFadden's, on State Street not too far from the John Hancock tower and Lake Michigan.

Normally it's a charming little pub - in fact, it was about an hour ago - but now the mood is grim and the language is a bit salty.

Like the rest of the folks who have crowded into the place, I'm here to watch the World Cup. The turnout at McFadden's, one of dozens of bars and restaurants in the city that opened early today, is at least 200. This is a soccer-supportive city, after all, having been a host during the 1994 World Cup and the home of Major League Soccer's Chicago Fire.

These fans know the game and know a stinker when they see one. The U.S. is laying an egg against Slovenia in a critical Group C game. It's halftime and the Americans are down 2-0 to a country with a population of just 2 million, which is about a million less than Chicago.

Slovenia is wearing a Charlie Brown-looking jersey; apparently there's a Nike "Peanuts" collection. Of course, that look is 100 times better than the U.S. team's Miss America sash jersey. No tiaras, though - they might pop the ball on headers.

In Chattanooga, the Chattanooga Football Club and Big River Grille hosted a viewing party downtown, and CFC board member Sheldon Grizzle said at least 150 people showed up to watch the game.

"I couldn't believe how many people were there for what time of day it was," he said afterward.

He admitted he didn't know exactly what that meant in regard to soccer's popularity in our city, but "it says something about something."

Upon further reflection, Grizzle said the turnout at Big River for both of the U.S. team's Cup games so far is certainly a positive for CFC, the second-year amateur club that will try to go 4-0 this season tonight at Finley Stadium against Atlanta FC.

"I think a few years ago during the last World Cup (in 2006), we wouldn't have had 150 people at that game at 10 in the morning on a week day," he said. "I think either because of or in addition to Chattanooga Football Club, it's helping with the awareness."

The mood at McFadden's and no doubt viewing spots everywhere improved in the second half when the U.S. got goals from Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley and salvaged a 2-2 tie.

It should have been a win for the Yanks, but they were robbed of a late goal on a mystery infraction. Then again, it shouldn't have come to that.

It was the U.S. team's second tie in as many Cup games, and this was supposed to be the year when the Yanks, whose roster is loaded with European club players, exerted some authority.

That authority has been absent in both games, especially early on when the U.S. keeps giving up goals. There's no shame in tying Slovenia, but at some point the Americans need to make the leap to Cup contender.

Yes, the U.S. did very well in last year's Confederations Cup, but that ultimately is a warmup tournament, not the big stage.

"I think our players have gotten significantly better over the years, but our results have not," Grizzle said. "Our overall ability to win when it counts isn't there."

They're used to that here in Chicago where the beloved Cubs routinely dash hopes, yet the fans keep coming back for more. That might have more to do with Wrigley Field than anything else.

The U.S. can't count on that kind of blind devotion and loyalty. The Yanks caught a break with their tie, and an even bigger one when England and Algeria tied, which sets up a win-and-you're-in game for the U.S. against Algeria on Wednesday.

A lot of us will be watching and waiting to see something special. It's time.

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