Wiedmer: Can World Cup keep gaining U.S. fans?

Wiedmer: Can World Cup keep gaining U.S. fans?

June 23rd, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

United States soccer fans react to Portugal's tie-goal near the end of the game as they watch the game between US and Portugal in Richmond on Sunday, June 22, 2014.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Stupid stoppage time.

What else can you say about that come-from-ahead tie the United States soccer team was reduced to against Portugal in World Cup pool play on Sunday evening?

Stoppage time? What is that, something dreamed up by the singing fat lady to take an extra bow? Who has stoppage time in college football? Or basketball? Or baseball? (OK, so baseball is basically one, giant stoppage of time occasionally interrupted by a few seconds of stirring action. But perhaps we digress.)

Point is, until the final minute of those painful extra minutes, the Red, White and Blue had authored one of those amazing comebacks that makes all of us love sports and just might have made the most reluctant among us finally fall in love with that other futbol.

Down 1-0 at halftime, the U.S. had rallied to lead 2-1 with the kind of fierce, aggressive play this country loves. Passing, defense, shot making. It all looked like the NBA's San Antonio Spurs on grass -- well, you know what I mean.

Anyway, it appeared to be a done deal, delirious chants of "U.S.A!, U.S.A!" certain to fill the air from Brazil to Boston to Bakersfield. And a second win to add to the U.S.'s first win last Monday, which would have given our guys victories in their first two World Cup contests for the first time since 1930, a span of 84 years.

But then Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo -- whose eyebrows seem a wee bit too perfect -- made a perfect assist to Silvestre Varela and we all started to experience what Alabama football fans felt when Auburn ran that field goal attempt back last year as time expired to win the Iron Bowl.

Total shock.

Supreme disappointment.

Utter Frustration.

Abject Anger.

Stupid Stoppage Time.

At least the reasoned wisdom ESPN's Bob Ley perfectly explained what happened with the following words: "That is why Renaldo has been called the world player of the year, and that is why this is called the 'Group of Death.'"


But we're getting there, this U.S. soccer movement. Closer every year. Better every year, regardless of the individual results. And we still have a wonderful chance to move into this World Cup's knockout round, its Sweet 16, if you will, either a tie or a win against Germany on Thursday providing us all we'll need to advance.

So should you run into one of our Volkswagon friends this week, ask them for a break. Ask them to play for a tie. Ask them to think about their beloved Love Bug, then ask them to love their business neighbors as themselves.

But don't forget to get yourself on board while you're at it. Sunday's TV ratings already figure to eclipse last week's Game 5 NBA Finals clincher by San Antonio over Miami. Ratings for all World Cup matches are up over 21 percent on ESPN. And at the risk of saying "I told you so," perhaps this is also why so many concerned with stagnant or declining ratings in every sport save NFL football have begged for earlier starting times and shorter games. When the final World Cup game of each evening is over by 8 p.m. and lasts no more than two hours, everyone benefits, especially children with early bedtimes.

So maybe this is when you know all this soccer talk is for real, a movement rather than a moment, something of permanence rather than a quadrennial dalliance.

But don't look at the national trends only. Just talk to a local such as Community Pie manager Jim Carter, who was on duty for the U.S.'s opening win over Ghana last Monday.

"One of the wildest Mondays I've had in awhile," he said Sunday afternoon as be awaited what he expected to be a similar crowd for the Portugal match. "And it wasn't the age you'd expect. We had folks 45 and up, men in suits and ties and then we had the 18-under crowd with their parents. And they were all going nuts."

Which got a sports writer to thinking. Monday Night. How would he compare it to a Monday Night Football crowd.

Said Carter without a pause, "[The World Cup crowd] way, way crazier."

And it wasn't just at Community Pie. A friend who works at North Chattanooga's Tremont Tavern told Carter of the doors opening at 4 p.m. and the place being packed by 4:15. Similar stories have been repeated from Washington D.C. to Washington state.

But now comes the real test. Will we bring similar energy and hope on Thursday against the Germans now that we've tasted a troublesome tie? And should that end badly, should another World Cup effort come up short, will we keep up the support and interest, knowing it's another four years until we can again compete on soccer's biggest stage?

U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann gritted his teeth Sunday night and said, "We've just got to go a tougher way. This is what the World Cup is about."

Stupid stoppage time or not.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.