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The World Cup, the Sounders and us

A sport where you can advance by losing? Obviously, soccer has something for everyone, especially in Seattle.
The stadium in Manaus where a number of World Cup games have been played.

The stadium in Manaus where a number of World Cup games have been played. Gabriel Smith/Flickr

A Sounders game.

A Sounders game. Art Bromage/Flickr

Contributing to the many fascinating feats at the World Cup in Brazil, the United States national team Thursday managed to fall up. In a monsoon, no less.

The contravention of the laws of physics came at the expense of Portugal and Ghana, the members of the so-called "Group of Death" who fell down. How unoriginal.

The U.S. lost to Germany 1-0, but both teams elevated to the knock-out round next week by virtue of better records in the three games of group play. For those Americans who see advancement via defeat as a peculiar way to find a champion, please consider the method by which the U.S. for decades has decided its national college football champion — the voted opinions of sportswriters who probably are better qualified to judge a swimsuit pageant. And would prefer to do so.

Because the U.S. and Germany knew before the match that a mere draw — as well as a close U.S. loss — would advance both, the teams played with an industrial-strength pucker that sapped the game of any passion and daring. The only real theater was was whether the rain would wash the teams, players and stadium into the Atlantic Ocean.

Despite acute caution from by the U.S., Germany's 24-year-old star, Thomas Muller, in the 55th minute punched in from 18 yards a rebound score off the hands of American goalie Tim Howard. The shot was authoritative, as was the Germans' control of the ball for 64 percent of the game. Had the stakes been higher, so would have been the margin of victory.

Nevertheless, the Americans, second in Group G, have defied the skeptics and moved on to the round of 16, where the Yanks meet Belgium, winners of Group H, at 1 p.m. Tuesday. For the first time, the U.S. has advanced to the knockout round in consecutive Cups, another sign that Yank progress in the world's game is moving ahead.

Speaking of progress, judging by the Cup's TV ratings, soccer has more than a beachhead in the battle for hearts and minds in the sporting amusements.

The U.S.-Portugal game Sunday, viewed on cable nets ESPN and Univision, was seen by 24.7 million, close to the BCS college football "championship" audience of 26.4 million, and well outpacing the NCAA men's basketball Final Four, Masters golf and either NHL or NBA championships. Only the NFL and the Olympics were bigger TV draws this year.

Owing to a 9 a.m. start on a workday, Thursday's rating won't do nearly as well. And the big Portugal number is a bit deceiving, since it benefits by two factors that are candy to American viewers — national participation, and spectacle, neither of which addresses the embrace of the sport for itself.

Still, the show has been compelling. Soccer-mad Brazil, despite its dreadful over-spend on the tourney and its roaring economic problems, is providing a pulsing backdrop, and ESPN's coverage, anchored by the knowledge and smoothness of anchor Bob Ley, is doing a splendid job of showcasing and explaining.

Beyond spectacle and U.S. participation, as well as the Cup tradition of controversial, jaw-dropping goofiness — the bite by Uruguay's Luis Suarez will keep late-night comedians dealing for months — several factors are bumping up the attractiveness of this event for casual U.S. fans.

For a nation that abhors nil-nil, the 32 World Cup teams averaged almost three goals a game in the now-concluded group play. With 16 games left, the 136 scores were just one short of all games in the 2010 Cup.

Underdogs abound: The presence of little guys Switzerland, Greece, Chile and Costa Rica in the round of 16 evokes the charm of the NCAA hoops tourney and its various Butlers, Gonzagas and Florida Gulf Coasts, while defending champion Spain, along with traditional powers Italy, England and Portugal are headed home to Europe today. 



The level of play by individuals and teams has to delight any newbie, none more dramatic than the local-angle play by Sounders' Clint Dempsey, the U.S. captain who has gone household with his name, thanks to two vital goals. His Seattle teammate, 20-year-old DeAndre Yedlin, whose surprise inclusion on the 23-man roster was thought to be mere training wheels for 2018, has delighted by getting in as a reserve the past two games and drawing praise for his rookie coolness.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jun 26, 10:52 p.m. Inappropriate

Art, Your statement that "Because the U.S. and Germany knew before the match that a mere draw — as well as a close U.S. loss — would advance both" is not quite right. Had Ghana beaten Portugal 2-1 instead of the other way around, the US would have been out.

WSDW

Posted Fri, Jun 27, 8:16 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm going to have to like soccer now because Ann Coulter hates it so much.

Posted Fri, Jun 27, 1:48 p.m. Inappropriate

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BlueLight

Posted Fri, Jun 27, 2:52 p.m. Inappropriate

One year the Seahawks went to the first round of the NFL playoffs with a 7-9 win/loss record. And that does not appear to be unusual...

orino

Posted Sat, Jun 28, 9:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Oh this is fkin disgusting. Proudly we're #1 chanters labelling
Knute's parlimentary proposition "Is Ann Coulter real?"
Yes, well, also there's another matter, the other matter,
nevermind.

Wells

Posted Mon, Jun 30, 8:48 a.m. Inappropriate

Could Alexi Lalas be more annoying?

Dos Equis

Posted Mon, Jun 30, 2:31 p.m. Inappropriate

American sportswriters have almost always checked off the soccer box with open hatred or with a bemused superiority akin to that taken toward gymnastics that involve ribbons and balls. Most futbol fans haven't missed their approbation at all.

So now, as more people develop team loyalty, as they enjoy the atmospheric spectacle, and as they grow more sophisticated as spectators, the same sportswriters scramble to write about watching futbol rather than the sport of futbol, which they don't understand. The spectacle and the patriotism are surely part of watching World Cup soccer, but would this article mention marching bands and alumni support if the the sport was college football?

Would Art play to the lowest common denominator like this if any of our other sports could muster a world-wide event of this magnitude?

Slidezone

Posted Tue, Jul 1, 2:06 p.m. Inappropriate

What is not to understand about 'futbol'?
Perhaps when and where is the best place to dive or pinch your opponent?

This is probably the easiest sport in the world to understand. You defend this net and you score in that one.

I agree with Art that this comment only highlights the superiority complex and snobbery of someone who uses words like 'approbation.'

jeffro

Posted Wed, Jul 2, 3:12 p.m. Inappropriate

Apparently the tournament scoring and/or group advancement is hard to understand. That's the gist of the article.

Dos Equis

Posted Mon, Jun 30, 9:57 p.m. Inappropriate

No, I wouldn't mention bands and alums in a college football story, slidezone, because the sport already has its place in American sports. Soccer is forever seeking such a spot, and experiences a spike in interest every four years because of the WC's spectacle and nationalism -- not because most want to embrace soccer. But some do each time, and more probably would if they didn't have to deal with condescending attitudes prevalent among soccer snobs who fail encourage their interest.

Art Thiel

Posted Wed, Jul 2, 12:23 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm not sure what the last sentence was meant to say.

My point, admittedly poorly expressed, was that futbol is here now, and most sports journalists, your article included, tend to talk about it as if it's some new pretender to real sport. I took your portrayal of soccer as a temporary jingoist spectacle to be a shallow put-down, and I wonder why the opinion warrants an article while world-event based sports such as track, skiiing, tennis, or, say, yachting are not equally dismissed as having no place in America's heart. If my reaction is overstated or unfairly directed, it is because the people who speak of soccer, as does jeffro above, are the normal voice of "real American sports fans". Is the story of US soccer really about not attaining its market potential in the US... yet? No futbol fan I know needs to sneer at the big three, but again, jeffro expresses what we see in the non-soccer (or anti-soccer) media most often.

I don't mean to sound like a a zero-sum elitist. Apparently, my grammar, vocabulary, and syntax evoke a defensive posture. The use of more formal language is a choice I make in the face of its popular erosion. Painting it as snobbery says more about the painter than the alleged snob, but I'll agree I often come off as a tight-ass. It's why I rarely comment.

While jeffro takes a more direct approach, your reaction sounds the same as his: a defensive personal attack. I can tell you I surely don't feel superior being a soccer novice for 30 years; on the contrary, I'm still discovering levels of understanding I can only hope to reach. I only wish that sports writers would help us all learn rather than focusing on what US soccer isn't... yet.

Art, I hold you in high esteem as one of the premier sports writers in Seattle history... and I remember Royal Brougham's columns. Am I wrong that you, like me, have a lot to learn about the world's game?

Slidezone

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