Lure of the local | Passionate postmortems for the USA

How much more compelling the churlish barbs hurled toward midfielders missing in action and forwards past their prime than the bland commentary that started the World Cup finals, the domestic whine favored by columnists with the pictures by their names who ask, umpteen times, “Will the U.S. ever take an interest in this sport?” We found two examples without having to look: David Grimes in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune of southwest Florida, “Pull Out the Yellow Card: I Don’t Have Soccer Fever,” and Mark Wiedmer in the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times/Free Press, “Most Americans Still Wary about World Cup.” In the latter sampling, Wiedmer spoke, by our count, to eight people before an outdoor Kenny Rogers concert at a popular Chattanooga venue. He seemed to prefer conversing with people wearing National Football League garb. Most were not that interested in soccer. We imagine the copy editor querying Wiedmer about the writer’s methodology before adding the headline: “So how many did you talk to, Mark? Eight? I’ll use ‘most’ in the headline then; if you had talked to seven, I would have to go with ‘many.’ ” (For an overseas perspective, although imported from the States, see Bill Center‘s treatment for the Times of London, “Americans Love Soccer—Once Every Four Years.”)

In 2010 we’ll be back on this treadmill: “Doesn’t anyone care about this game?” No one could ever assess the culture in totality, so such questions seem pointless. There are as many opinions on soccer as there are soccer bloggers these days. Speaking of which, equally discouraging is the surging tide of “blogs” from the rapidly consolidating Washington Post–Newsweek–Slate–McSweeney’sGranta–New Republic–New Yorker consortium, a development noticeable enough that Bryan Curtis, a Franklin Foer associate, called attention to the takeover of soccer by the “intellectual classes.” He wrote the piece, “Among the Brainiacs,” for Slate, so we’re talking about a tight-knit group; nevertheless, it only takes a few people to create a trend, especially folks on the same e-mail distribution list. Curtis quotes David Hirshey, occasional soccer writer for the New York Times and executive editor of HarperCollins—publisher of Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup, a creation of this new intellectual bloc:

What you’re seeing now is the result of the gold rush of soccer in the 1970s, when Pelé came to America and made it cool for kids. Those kids have grown up to be McSweeney’s and Granta writers.

The perspectives are telling. Matt Weiland, coeditor of the Thinking Fan’s Guide, speaks of soccer players as looking “like someone who came to your last party and you didn’t get a chance to talk to.” We were trying to remember our last party, but it consisted mostly of fellow nine-year-olds. We went duckpin bowling. The three-headed on-site Slate blogging team, William Saletan, Tommy Craggs and Charles Duhigg (“Dispatches from the World Cup“), seems to move in the same orbit. Saletan mentions his Cambridge fellowship. Craggs compares the dress of American fans to Phi Delts.

So, when the World Cup is over, we’ll go back to weeping over our Atlanta Beat decals and remembering the Goodyear blimp that flew over our neighborhood soccer field once and all it foretold.

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2 comments on this post.
  1. Brian:

    The “I Don’t Care About the World Cup” whines in the US press are as predictable “The Ref Cost Us the Match” whines in other countries’ press. But the bottom line is that this Cup has had record ratings on ESPN and ESPN2 despite the matches being played during most adults’ workdays. And will the “Will the US ever care about soccer?” types bother to explain why, if there are hardly any fans of the sport, we have not one but two TV channels devoted solely to soccer?

  2. Ray Radlein:

    If it’s any consolation, I weep over my Atlanta Beat decals, too (and my 30-year-old Tampa Bay Rowdies T-shirts, as well).

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