To the average American sports fan, football is played with two eleven member teams of massive men struggling to score with an oblong ball on a striped 100 by 53 yard field with U-shaped goalposts at either end.
The Canadian version is played with twelve men and an oblong ball on a longer and wider field. The Aussies play their eighteen man version of what they call ‘footy’ on a field with an oblong ball as well with four goalposts on either end.
To the rest of the planet, football (or soccer as we call it here in the States, Canada and Australia) is played with two eleven player teams of either men and women battling to kick a round ball into a netted goal on a variable 100–110m by 64-75m pitch.
Oh yeah, national pride and sporting prestige is on the line as well.
Every four years the pressure and fan frenzy gets ratcheted up another level when international football supremacy is up for grabs in the FIFA World Cup. The Olympics, World Cup qualifiers, or major FIFA international tournaments such as the Confederation and Gold Cups also grab the attention of die hard football fans, yet most sports fans in the USA are rather ho-hum about it.
But as a US sports fan, I have to give kudos to the first men’s USA football team to ever qualify for a FIFA tournament final.
That’s the extent of the good news for American football fans. The bad news is they were playing the mighty Brazilians, who knocked off the host South Africans 1-0 in the other semifinal match.
Team USA took a surprising 2-0 lead into halftime before the Brazilians woke up and scored three second half goals to capture the 2009 Confederations Cup tournament title in South Africa.
The Confederations Cup is held every four years and includes the winners of various continental tournaments plus the host nation of the upcoming World Cup. Team USA qualified because they won the CONCACAF region championship in 2007.
Many world football fans are still shocked that Team USA knocked off FIFA number one ranked Spain 2-0 June 24 to reach the finals of this tournament in South Africa.
But if world football fans had been paying attention, it really shouldn’t have been. Team USA is currently in second place in the CONCACAF region and in a great position to qualify for next year’s World Cup competition in South Africa.
However, they have a critical August 12 qualifying match with the Tricolores in Mexico City, where they are 0-11-1 all time.
As evidenced by their performance in this tournament, Team USA over the last few years has been making groundbreaking strides in recent international competitions.
But the Team USA men aren’t playing just for the respect of the football world or moral victories any more, they want to win. Player Landon Donovan stated as much in an ESPN interview conducted moments after their disappointing 3-2 loss to Brazil.
The interesting thing to me is that the usual sporting script is flipped. It’s the FIFA world number one ranked Team USA’s women footballers who get the media attention and love at home, not the men. The U.S. women rock.
They are the two time Women’s World Cup champions (1991, 1996) and were runners up in the 2000 final. They are three time Olympic gold medalists in 1996, 2004 and 2008. They are one of the teams favored to take home the championship in the Women’s World Cup tournament being hosted by Germany in 2011.
The USA men are trying to step up to that level. Their FIFA world ranking has climbed to number 14 from their FIFA 28th world rankings a year ago. After failing to do so in 1998, Team USA qualified for the 2002 and 2006 World Cup competitions. They made a remarkable run in the 2002 tournament but fell to Germany 1-0 in the 2002 quarterfinals. They qualified for the 2008 Beijing Games after failing to do so in 2004 and finishing fourth in 2000.
What many football fans don’t realize is that the United States has a football history. We’ve been a member nation of FIFA since 1914. It may also surprise you to know that Team USA made it to the semifinals of the first FIFA World Cup tournament contested in Uruguay in 1930. Ask our British cousins about the 1950 World Cup ‘Miracle On Grass’ in which we knocked off heavily favored England 1-0 in group play with basically an amateur squad.
FIFA and the United States Football Association would love for the USA men to become consistent contenders in world football competition as well. Getting reasonable ratings and a share of the USA’s massive and lucrative sports television market for football has been a challenge, but the USFA is forging ahead and bidding to host the World Cup for the first time since 1994.
We’re shooting to land either the 2018 or 2022 FIFA World Cup tournaments, and there are many American cities interested in hosting games should our bids be successful. Civic leaders know that the World Cup is the most watched sporting event on the planet.
Interest in football in the States on the men’s side would have taken a massive leap forward if the underdog Team USA could have pulled off a historic victory against the Brazilians. But their Confederation Cup silver medal run has already created major football buzz amongst US sports media. It has garnered coverage on ESPN and increased chatter on US sports talk radio stations about football with casual sports fans.
The rest of the football loving world may believe the USA men doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hades to one day take a World Cup championship back to the United States. But as any sports fan can tell you, once the whistle blows and you begin playing the games, anything can happen.