On Tuesday, I caught the very end of the Japan vs. Paraguay World Cup match. After a scoreless tie, Paraguay prevailed with a 5-3 score in the penalty kicks. Players from both ends were tired and tearful after two hours of nearly nonstop action.
The fans in the stand, with their vuvuzelas, were into the action throughout the whole match. They were screaming, chanting, jumping up and down and making all the noise they could for their country.
I sat there, watched the penalty kicks with very little interest, and turned off my television. There goes probably the longest uninterrupted sitting watching a soccer match I will have until the next World Cup. And I think I will be OK with it.
Soccer is a sport that hasn't captured my interest as much as other sports have. Growing up in the Bay Area, I was surrounded by the more popular American sports like baseball, football and basketball. These three sports were the ones that aired on TV on a nightly basis and were very accessible for me to attend.
I didn't get that with soccer. I never noticed a strong hype about the sport. The American sports media never made a strong attempt to push soccer as a sport that the country should be watching. There weren't good outlets for me growing up to get into the sport.
There have been a few bright spots in recent history of America trying to make soccer relevant. In 1996, Major League Soccer debuted in the States and the Bay Area had a team in the San Jose Clash. In 1999, the United States hosted the Women's World Cup and the infamous Brandi Chastain goal brought the sport to the front pages of newspapers. And whenever the World Cup comes along, soccer news becomes part of the headlines.
For about that four-year period starting in 1996, soccer was on the rise in America. But after the initial buzz, it slowly returned back to the shadows of American interest — making its few World Cup appearance since then.
And it's not that soccer is a hard sport to pick up. It has a lot of similarities to basketball, football and hockey: take the ball/puck and move it past the defenders for a score on one end. In fact, soccer's rules are probably one of the simplest for any sport. So why can't I find interest in something that I am familiar with?
The problem is that the American media cares only about sports that Americans succeed in. It's something that they can easily promote to the fans and provides more access. Baseball, football and basketball are sports that were created in America and are sports that receive the most coverage. The same can't be said about hockey and soccer.
And it's no surprise that since the coverage is usually focused on those three main sports, those are the three sports that end up being our favorite sports. Hockey's popularity has grown, but it will always remain as a Canadian sport.
For international players, they have dreams of making it to the biggest stage to showcase their skills. Basketball, baseball and hockey players have dreams of American organizations like the NBA, MLB and NHL, respectively. In soccer, the best players' top destination for their careers usually isn't in America; it's in Europe.
Even during the Winter Olympics, I watched nearly every curling match because it was so on many times and it drew my attention. But ever since the Olympics ended, I have not been able to get my curling fix. Even with a game like cricket it's hard. I love watching it, but you can't find it on regular American television.
Soccer is not as bad, but it's coverage isn't that great. Fortunately we have sports packages that offer soccer channels. I can get my San Jose Earthquakes games on Comcast Sportsnet and maybe that could be my window into soccer. But if the Bay Area did not have a local soccer team, I might never get into the sport.
Some would say that I should seek out channels and Internet sites that provide me information on leagues like the Premier League and Serie A. That may be the only way that I can get the best soccer coverage and talents. But it is hard with such a busy life. While balancing all the other sports I enjoy (along with life), it would be easier if soccer was more accessible and more in our American sports coverage.
Hopefully one day I would be able to truly get into soccer. Maybe the popularity can one day grow in America. I'm not sure if or when that would happen. But if it does, then it might be a sign that the Americans are starting to get better at the sport. That would be nice too.