COMMERCE CITY – The world’s game is now our game, too.
This truth was clear to see during the United States' 1-0 soccer victory over Costa Rica in a World Cup qualifier Friday.
But that was about the only thing clear on an outrageously snowy Colorado night. It was hard to see the ball. It was hard to see the lines. It was hard to see any effort from Costa Rica. After halftime, the visitors looked lost and seemed most interested in going home to balmy temperatures and pristine beaches.
The sell-out crowd remained with only a few dozen fleeing the blowing snow and freezing temperatures.
Bad weather was part of the Americans’ plot. It’s no accident this game was played in Colorado in March. The U.S. is not above employing weather in its quest to ensure a return trip to the World Cup.
For decades, skeptical American sports fans have considered it their patriotic duty to make fun of soccer. The game is boring, these fans shouted. The game never will conquer our land.
Forget it; the conquering is complete.
An hour before the game, I could tell this would be a special night. Snow already was falling in this decidedly unfashionable Denver suburb as the parking lots at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park began to fill.
As I stepped out of my car, I encountered a scalper. One thing about scalpers, they always want to talk.
“Got any tickets?” he asked, his eyes full of hope.
I told him no.
This new depressed him. He knew he could sell his tickets at a huge markup.
He couldn't find any tickets.
On a horrendous night, virtually everyone who purchased a ticket showed up to watch our nation’s soccer team. There’s an easy explanation for this:
Soccer has arrived in the United States, including Colorado. Throngs of Americans have joined billions around the world in an extreme devotion to a simple, beautiful game.
Millions of Americans are now fluent about soccer. They talk with excitement and expertise about Messi, Ronaldo and Rooney. They watch Fox Soccer Channel with the same fervor conservatives watch Fox News. They follow their national team with extreme devotion.
This was a fun night. The crowd joined together for a loud, inspiring performance of our National Anthem, and when Clint Dempsey scored the game’s only goal in the 16th minute, the rejoicing sounded like a happy thunderstorm.
I’m not optimistic about this current version of America’s team. Landon Donovan, the greatest American soccer star of them all, appears more interested in rest than leading his countrymen.
Dempsey needs an elite scoring partner for the Americans to travel deep in the World Cup field, and I don’t see one on the roster. This team appears on its way to a disappointing finish at the 2014 Cup.
But in the future, America will kick its way into the ranks of the world’s finest soccer nations. We don’t have tradition on our side. We do have a massive population and an enormous thirst for victory.