Hate soccer? Just watch World Cup

Published 2:03 am Sunday, June 13, 2010

I’ve heard many different reasons why soccer hasn’t caught on as a major sport in America.

Heck, I used to think the same way myself.

The game is boring. Nothing happens. It’s played by a bunch of pansies. There is hardly any scoring. All the games end in ties.

But as I watch the United States take on England in both team’s World Cup opener on Saturday afternoon, I saw none of those things.

Instead, I saw a sporting event as exciting, nerve wracking and exhilarating as any I have seen in a long time, regardless of sport.

I used to be a self-professed soccer hater. Sure, I’d watch some World Cup matches, but only if there was nothing else on television.

But for the most part, I wanted nothing to do with the sport. I didn’t understand what thrill my friends who did like the “beautiful game” got from it.

But I started to come around on soccer a couple of years ago.

And now, after seeing the United States’ thrilling 1-1 draw against England on Saturday, count me in as a full-blown fan.

The game had a little bit of everything.

It had an English hero in Steven Gerrard, who scored in the fourth minute to give the English an early advantage.

It also had a classic goat in England goalkeeper Robert Green, who fumbled an easy shot from Clint Dempsey, which trickled into the back of the net to tie the score in the 40th minute.

It had physicality, proving that soccer players aren’t a bunch of pansies.

U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard was injured in the first half when he was spiked in the chest by an English player as both dove for a loose ball.

However, Howard shook it off and made several spectacular saves in the second half to preserve the tie.

And most importantly, the game had nonstop tension and anticipation.

There were no timeouts to stop a run. There were no breaks at the end of an inning. Everybody didn’t stop because somebody ran two yards and was tackled.

The second half of the game was a 49-minute high wire act, or as one of the U.S. fans at the watch party put it as the game clock ticked to its final 10 minutes “Ten minutes of madness.”

England kept peppering the United States goal, but Howard stood strong in goal, saving three great chances for the English that could have given them the win.

The U.S. also had a great shot to take the lead in the second half, but Jozy Altidore’s shot was deflected off the post by Green, partly making up for his first-half blunder.

As the English heat on the U.S. goal increased, I kept looking at the game clock, nervously waiting for the final whistle.

Finally, it came after four minutes of stoppage time, ending the game in a tie.

But even though it ended in a tie, it felt like a win for the U.S., who just 20 years ago would have been blown off the field by the English squad.

Saturday’s game was thought to be one of the most important in U.S. history, with a good performance by the Americans perhaps leading to more interest in the sport here in the States.

Well, the game lived up to everything it was hoped for. If the United States can’t support the beautiful game after a match like that, then I don’t know what will do it.

Jeff Edwards is the sports editor for The Democrat. He can be reached at sports@natchezdemocrat.com, or by phone at 601-445-3632.