BORROWING THE WORLD CUP

Because we globe-dominatin', large-livin' Americans think as we do, soccer people believe the U.S. team must survive the World Cup's first round in order for the game to make even a dent in the local consciousness. That won't be easy. The luck of the World Cup draw has landed the Yanks in the tournament's well-balanced Group A, where it must face Switzerland, Colombia and Romania in the opening matches. The Swiss haven't qualified for the World Cup in a generation, so their versatile club is hungry. The Romanians got in at the expense of powerful Wales and a strong Czechoslovakian team, and they loom a dark horse for the Cup finals. Meanwhile, Colombia got much-needed experience at Italia '90, then finished first in the formidable South American qualifying group by beating Paraguay, Argentina and Peru.

There's another problem, too. It might be a little tough for Joe Six-Pack from Hoboken to identify with anyone on the misnamed "United States Team" in the first place. To begin with, the American coach is someone called Bora Milutnovic, which is only slightly less difficult to say than Lothar Osiander--who was the coach of the U.S. Olympic team. Not only that, many of the "American" players themselves have only the remotest connection to home, flag and apple pie. The U.S. roster is likely to include stars Roy Wegerle, who usually plays in England, Tab Ramos (Spain), Thomas Dooley (Germany) and Ernie Stewart (Netherlands). None was born in the United States, although Dooley and Stewart have American fathers (enough to give them citizenship), and Wegerle has an American wife.

These problems aside, the World Cup might popularize the world's most popular game right here if the quasi-Yanks can score some goals on home turf...and if a bit of World Cup success can spawn professional-league expansion. As it is, the eight-team APSL, of which the Foxes are the reigning champs, also fields clubs in Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Montreal, Seattle, Toronto and Vancouver. In the worst-case scenario, the game will remain a minor interest in this country, save in hotbeds like St. Louis and among twelve-year-olds. When the smoke clears and the cheers die at the Rose Bowl, soccer could be the game nearly 89 Americans love.

If they stock up on rotten fruit, no one will notice.

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