It’s Soccer…uh, Football Time!


This is a plea to my fellow Irish Americans. It’s time to start giving a damn about football.
And I don’t mean the Giants or the Jets. I mean soccer.

As the rest of the globe knows -- as opposed to most Americans -- the 2010 World Cup in South Africa is about to get underway. This Saturday at 1:30, the U.S. -- led by two stars with distinctly Hibernian names -- takes on England.

Does a true green-blooded Irish American really need another reason to get hyped up for this game? (I mean match.)

Okay, so even if you have no love for the Brits, you might still need to be persuaded to tear yourself away from the other sporting events on tap for this weekend.

After all, the Yankees and Mets and every other Major League Baseball team will be playing this Saturday. Hockey’s Stanley Cup title will finally be decided by the weekend, and the Lakers and Celtics will be squaring off as the NBA’s basketball championship series continues.

So, for those of you still baffled as to why soccer (I mean football) never quite takes hold in America, there’s reason number one -- an embarrassment of athletic riches.

There are so many sports -- not to mention other entertainment options -- available to even the casual fan that it seems like you’d have to invent a third day of the weekend to take them all in.

But it seems to me Irish Americans have a particular interest in rooting hard for the Americans when they take the field (I mean the pitch), and not just because the U.S. is taking on the Brits.

First and foremost, let’s get this ugly bit on news out of the way -- Ireland is not playing in the World Cup this time around. Which is an interesting bit of news for Irish Americans to keep in their back pockets on the off chance that some Irish-born friends or family start running America down.

Second, two of America’s brightest stars are the Irish Americans Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. Yes, yes, England has superstar Wayne Rooney, whose parents are Irish. But when you take all things into account, I think we know which country has done more for the Irish over the centuries.

Third, if the Irish truly do love an underdog, even a lost cause, soccer (I mean football) remains one of the few places the Americans can be seen as underdogs.

Military dominance. Financial dominance. Entertainment dominance. America has it all.

But soccer remains one of the few endeavors during which the Americans can view themselves as struggling upstarts among giants.

That’s exactly why last year’s FIFA Confederations Tournament in South Africa was so thrilling. (That sentence alone might seem downright bizarre to an average American, but I’ll move on.)
The Americans entered that prestigious tournament as an afterthought, with traditional powerhouses such as Brazil or Spain expected to dominate.

Fittingly, the Americans started off slow, losing two matches to Italy and Brazil by a combined score of 6- 1.

But from this modest start came what was nearly the defining moment in American soccer history. Dempsey and Donovan led the Americans in a dominating win over Egypt, which put them into the next round. Then came a stunning win over Spain.

Suddenly, the Americans were in the finals, facing Brazil. What happened? They were only up 2-0 over Brazil -- as in Pele’s Brazil -- at halftime.

Can you imagine what would have happened if the U.S. topped Brazil? Well, that’s all you can do is imagine it.

The Brazilians seemed to field 25 men for the second half, relentlessly attacking and, by the 85th minute, scored the go-ahead goal.

But that was last year. This is the World Cup. In a way, it is understandable for the rest of the world to root against America.

After all, the thinking goes, you Americans dominate everything else. Leave the football glory for the rest of the world.

And yet, the Irish have played such a big role putting America in such a position of dominance.

So they have a right, perhaps even a responsibility, to revel in a little football glory on the pitch.
Besides, who else are you gonna root for? The Brits?
(Contact at tomdeignan@earthlink.net or facebook.com/tomdeignan)

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