King Kaufman's Sports Daily

The U.S. pratfall in its World Cup opener didn't kill some coming soccer boom. Plus: Pong? And: Stanley Cup.


Salon Staff
June 13, 2006 8:00PM (UTC)

Ouch. Oh. Oof. Three to nothing.

So it looks like the soccer boom is going to have to wait four more years in this country after the Czech Republic undressed the United States 3-0 in both teams' World Cup opener Monday.

How many millions of dollars did it cost ESPN when Claudio Reyna's shot clanged off the goal post in the 28th minute? The Americans were down 1-0 at the time, having given up a goal in the fifth minute. Reyna's shot would have tied the game. Instead the Czechs put it out of reach when Tomas Rosicky scored eight minutes later.

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OK, probably not many millions of dollars. The Czechs beat the U.S. pillar to post, and while a goal by Reyna on that shot might have changed things, might have given the U.S. the lift it needed to start playing well, it's a good bet that the Czechs' clear superiority would have manifested itself one way or the other.

A U.S. goal there might have just ticked 'em off.

Unless things turn around quickly for the U.S., it won't be staging a repeat of its 2002 run to the quarterfinals, where the Americans mostly outplayed Germany but lost anyway. The Americans play Italy Saturday.

The commentariat has been saying that America is poised to embrace soccer, to send it booming, if the U.S. team goes deep in the World Cup again. I'm pretty skeptical, since I've been hearing about the coming boom of soccer as a spectator sport since I was in elementary school. It was coming right after we got used to using the metric system.

I've also been hearing for most of my life that some sport or another is about to go ballistic in the States, usually after an American team has had a good run in the Olympics. Volleyball fever, anyone? Remember?

Soccer's bigger than that, of course, and it's growing all the time. The growth is slow but real. It'll get a boost any time the U.S. does well in the World Cup, but even without the Americans playing, the ratings for the early games this time around are significantly better than they were four years ago. Some of that has to do with the timing of the games, Europe being a lot closer, time zone-wise, than Asia. But not all of it.

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The early games on ESPN2 have been pulling ratings in the 2.0 range, which is on par with network broadcasts of the Stanley Cup playoffs and French Open tennis. Since we're talking ESPN2, and we're talking games not involving the U.S., that means the World Cup is clearly outdrawing those events.

Soccer's at a point where it's going to get a boost in popularity in this country from every World Cup, and it'll get a bigger boost whenever the Americans do well.

Now, unless the Americans recover miraculously, it'll be interesting to see how this tournament plays out with audiences on these shores without the U.S. being a factor.

I'll say the same thing I said when people whined that they couldn't be bothered with the all-West Coast World Series in 2002 or the NBA's Flyover Finals last year because they didn't care about the teams involved: If you're a sports fan and you ignore spectacular championship events because your home team isn't involved, you're depriving yourself. Especially when your home team is far from the most interesting team out there.

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Either that or you don't really care about the sport in the first place. And if you don't care about a sport, why would you care if your home team wins? I'm really asking.

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A Goal: Hey, that changes everything [PERMALINK]

Comment of the tournament so far, by ESPN announcer Adrian Healey Tuesday after Korea scored on a free kick in the 54th minute to tie its game against troubled Togo at 1-1. "That completely changes the complexion of this game!"

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Well, yeah. In a sport and tournament where two goals are usually enough to win a game, scoring a goal tends to completely change the complexion of a 1-0 game, no matter who scores it.

Korea scored another goal in the 73rd minute with Togo down a man. That one really changed the complexion of the game! So did the red card against Togo's Jean-Paul Abalo that led to it having to play the last 37 minutes plus injury time shorthanded.

A better comment late in the game when Korea, trying to kill the clock, turned the ball over on its own side of the field:

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"It's one thing, Adrian, to hold possession of the ball," said analyst Tommy Smyth, "you can't afford to give it away."

"Well the Danish have a great word for this, when you pass along the back four, which I love," Healey said. "They call it 'Pong,' after the old Atari game."

"We have a good word for it when we give it away," said Smyth, who's Irish. "We call it stupid."

Korea held on to win 2-1.

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Idle question [PERMALINK]

Plenty of European and Latin American soccer players have come into the NFL over the years as place-kickers, but why don't they find work as punters?

I realize a soccer ball isn't a football, but those goalies boot that thing, in a punting motion, about 75 yards in the air. And they're better athletes than the average NFL punter too.

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Oilers dominate anthem battle, but not ice [PERMALINK]

If the Edmonton Oilers win Wednesday in Raleigh and force the Stanley Cup Finals to a sixth game, tune in to catch the national anthems Saturday in Edmonton.

Paul Lorieau, the Oilers' usual anthem singer, has been singing the first stanza of "O Canada," then turning it over to the rabid crowd. At the words "with glowing hearts," he raises his microphone and, Bruce Springsteen style, lets the crowd take it.

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And, boy, does the crowd take it. In full throat, Oilers fans carry that baby home to "O Canada, we stand on guard! For! Thee!" I get goosebumps and I'm not even Canadian. Or a goose.

Lorieau, who runs a local optics business, let Oilers officials talk him into the stunt before Game 3 and he did it again before Game 4. He told reporters he'd planned to just let the crowd sing a line or two, but "They did so well, I said 'What the hell' and let them carry on."

It's really something.

Unfortunately, all that patriotic emotion hasn't helped the Oilers on the power play. Edmonton is 1-for-25 on the man-advantage for the series after going 0-for-5 while losing 2-1 in a crunching Game 4 Monday. The Carolina Hurricanes lead the series 3-1.

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Go Oilers. I want to hear that anthem again.

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Table Talk chat reminder [PERMALINK]

The first monthly Table Talk chat will be Wednesday at 1 p.m. EDT. Join me in this column's thread for at least an hour, and maybe more, of talk about whatever you want to talk about.

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After this one the chat will be on the first Wednesday of the month.

Previous column: Mavs shut down Shaq

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