Ramsey: Land of the free and home of the soccer fans

June 11, 2014 Updated: June 12, 2014 at 8:51 am
Caption +
A man controls a ball as he plays soccer with some friends next to a FIFA Fan Fest complex in Fortaleza, Brazil, Sunday, June 8, 2014. The 2014 Word Cup soccer tournament is set to begin in just a few days, with Brazil and Croatia playing in the opening match on June 12 .(AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

We won.

Those of us who waited for our fellow Americans to join us in embracing soccer have defeated those who were willfully blind to the charms of the world's most-popular game.

America adores soccer. This adoration is multiplying. This adoration will continue to multiply.

Go ahead and scoff. Go ahead and shout falsehoods about The Beautiful Game. Say it's boring. Say it's as un-American as the metric system. Just realize you are standing in a corner with a few other clueless grumps missing all the fun while a gleeful throng prepares to celebrate the greatest spectacle in sport, the World Cup.

Bars and living rooms in Colorado soon will be packed with soccer fans watching Clint Dempsey and Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. These fans will enjoy games that zip by in less than two hours, finished by the time halftime ends in an ad-choked NFL game.

More than 18 million American viewers savored the 2010 World Cup final, a 41 percent increase from 2006 and more than double the number of viewers of the last game of hockey's 2013 Stanley Cup. I predict more than 25 million Americans will watch the 2014 final.

This embrace has been a long time coming.

Just ask Tomas Martinez, coach of the 2013 and 2014 state champion Cheyenne Mountain girls team and a proud member of Wasson's class of 1990.

As a child in Colorado Springs, Martinez played both football and soccer. He was a brave young man. He declined to keep his soccer playing a secret.

This led to trouble with his football teammates. They called him a sissy. When he missed a tackle, they would shrug and say this was expected. After all, he was a soccer player.

"Nobody really cared about soccer," Martinez said. "I didn't get a lot of support and a lot of love."

Slowly, Martinez watched Americans soften their disdain on their way to an embrace. Soccer is beloved across our globe, from Cape Town to Cairo, from Beijing to Buenos Aires and, finally, from sea to shining sea in America.

What explains the change in the United State?

"People watched the game," Martinez said. "That's the biggest thing."

He's right. In the past decade, American cable viewers have been blessed with easy access to professional leagues in England, Spain and Italy. Millions watched the world's finest players. And millions got hooked.

The rise of the American team helped, too. The United States men's team shocked the world, and probably itself, by traveling to the Cup's 2002 quarterfinals, where the Americans came achingly close to upsetting Germany. This raised expectations and placed a fresh red, white and blue tint on a game long ignored and ridiculed in the Land of the Free.

Nancy Sibley, who recently resigned as Air Academy's girls coach, was born in the Springs. She remembers the days when soccer was mocked in her hometown. She's thrilled those days are gone.

"Patriotism is behind it," she said of soccer's rise in popularity.

America's men's team is respectable, and the women's team is powerful. This rise in American soccer power opened the eyes of former doubters.

"It's like anything," Sibley said. "We reject the unfamiliar. If it's not something we, as Americans, created or something we're good at, we don't want it. It wasn't football and it wasn't dominated by Americans so we didn't see it as productive."

Sibley is talking about the past, when our nation remained defiantly blind to the charms of a thrilling game. This ignorance could only fail to thrive.

Here's the good news:

The scoffers and the doubters lost.

And those who understood the massive appeal of The Beautiful Game?

We won.


Twitter: @davidlukeramsey

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