Game Effort By USA
July 3, 2014
The United States men’s national team lost to Belgium 2-1 in extra time on Tuesday, ending the team’s World Cup run. The run into the round of 16 caught the attention of the nation. And that is a win for the sport of soccer in America. Fans across the country gathered together in bars, in stadiums, in parks, and in their homes to watch their team play a hard-fought 120 minutes. I doubt if most even understood the offside rule. But more do know the rule now than was the case a month ago. And will a great deal of people who watched the game stop caring about soccer tomorrow morning? Perhaps. But not as many as is usually the case after America is eliminated from the World Cup.
Team USA advanced farther than most thought they would. Has the sport arrived in America?
I have heard the question asked so many times since my teen years back in the 1970’s. The answer has always been no. During those years, there was almost no soccer on American television.
Now, with the 2014 FIFA World Cup underway, soccer has a very different place in the United States. Interest in the game is at an all time high. Fans in the U.S. bought more World Cup tickets than any other country aside from those in host Brazil. And in the years between World Cups, soccer no longer disappears from American televisions and consciousness. I find myself watching more and more soccer these days and do not have any trouble locating it on my TV dial.
For years, soccer has been touted as the sport of the future in the U.S. The soccer boom slowly began, with kids, in 1974, when the United States Youth Soccer Association was founded. In 2000 it had more than 3 million players. Soccer has slowly moved from the fringes to the mainstream. It is now second only to basketball in youth participation numbers.
USA Soccer Team 2014
Eventually, those kids become parents themselves. Parents who place their kids in programs and parents who attend professional matches and watch the game on television. The professional league in the states, the MSL, is getting better and better. College soccer is getting better and better. And just as important, matches from the best league in the world, the English Premier League, are now televised in America. We can now see the Manchester United - Liverpool type matches on ESPN. In other words, we can now view the best players in the world. NBC paid $250 million last year for the rights to broadcast the EPL in the U.S.
Unlike previous generations, Americans today understand the game because they grew up playing it. I read that close to 90 percent of soccer fans in a recent survey said they have played the sport or have an immediate family member who does. In addition to the many Americans whose parents never kicked a ball but who have become converts to soccer, there is a large and growing group of fans whose parents come from the soccer-mad countries of Latin America. Latinos are among the most dedicated soccer fans in the United States.
All these factors have brought ESPN to the table. Brazil’s World Cup is getting unprecedented attention from American media. ESPN is broadcasting every single World Cup match. They clearly recognize an untapped business opportunity in bringing soccer to a booming American base.
The World Cup will wrap up on July 13, but, unlike before, soccer will go on in the United States. MLS is in the middle of its season. The EPL returns in August. Many longtime American soccer fans wondered if the sport could ever truly make it in the US. I believe it finally has.
Hornets Fare Well At Draft
I previewed the NBA draft last week and came up with a couple of educated guesses on just who the Charlotte Hornets would land in the draft. I was wrong with my guesses, primarily because Noah Vonleh fell to the Hornets with the ninth pick.
I’m not sure this draft could have gone better for the franchise. Getting Vonleh, a versatile forward, with the ninth pick might be the best value in the lottery. He could have gone as high as 3 or 4, and now he’s paired next to all-star center Al Jefferson to provide an incredibly versatile offensive attack. Both players can play inside and both have the ability to face up.
Charlotte’s second round pick was P.J. Hairston. While Hairston, formerly of UNC, is known in the area for his indiscretions off the court, he is the outside shooter the team was looking for prior to the draft. Prior to his troubles off the court, Hairston was considered a first round talent. We will see how it goes for him. One never knows how obtaining NBA money will affect Hairston.
The Hornets also made a trade that brought another athlete to the roster. They traded Brendan Haywood and Dwight Powell to the Cavs for Alonzo Gee. Gee will provide needed depth at the small forward slot. He can defend and can be explosive on offense at times.
NCAA Returns to Chapel Hill
The bad news came on Tuesday in Chapel Hill. That was the day the University of North Carolina announced the NCAA is coming back to campus to re-open a 2011 investigation into academic impropriety involving former student-athletes at the school.
The investigation, which vaguely wrapped up more than two years ago, vaguely without any penalty from the NCAA toward UNC, stems from possible arrangements between former professors and student-athletes that is alleged to have occurred over the past 15 years.
Reports have shown no-show courses, phony grades and classes requiring only one end-of-term paper to be consistent over a period of time in previous years at the university.
The news comes two and a half weeks removed from former UNC basketball star Rashad McCants claiming he had tutors do his work for him and that he appeared on the Dean’s List in 2005 without doing classwork in many of his courses. Prior to McCants, no other current or former UNC athlete has publicly spoken or admitted to cheating.
Details of the new investigation on UNC’s side will remain quiet until interviews are complete and this latest investigation runs its course. It will be the fifth major investigation regarding academic fraud that UNC has been subject to in the past three years.