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US upsets Portugal?!

Now, there is a headline that you don’t see too often. The sports sites here in the US, such as ESPN.com and SportingNews.com made note of the American team’s 3-2 triumph over the favored Portuguese, but didn’t make it the day’s top story — after all, the NBA and NHL finals are now underway. Plus they understood that this was a preliminary-round game, that the US might not advance out of their group and that Portugal could still win the World Cup despite this loss (although it is difficult to see how they would beat Argentina or England when they can’t beat the US, it is still possible.)

No such restraint was shown by America’s news dailies. While American sports fans yawned, American journalists fawned, comparing the win to the “miracle on ice” at the Lake Placid Olympics in 1980, in which the US hockey team beat the Soviet Union in the semifinal round. So why is the World Cup getting so much coverage here in the US? I have a theory: finally, the press has found something that America really, really sucks at.

We used to suck at the Winter Olympics, but this time around we dominated. The American economy continues to grow while Europe has stagnated; Mississippi, the poorest American state, would be midpack among European nations in per-capita income. The fourth estate desperately wanted to believe that we would not be able to hold our ground in Afghanistan, and ran “quagmire” stories right up to — and even beyond — the fall of Kabul. Now the World Cup rolls around, and FINALLY, the press has something to report on that America does not dominate. And they love it.

It’s just a theory, but I suspect that’s what’s going on. It’s not as though America is suddenly in the throes of soccer fever. I am a bigger soccer fan than 99.9% of Americans, and soccer is maybe my 5th or 6th favorite spectator sport. If you pressed me, I could probably name all the teams in the English Premier League or the Italian Series A, but I cannot name a single player on the US World Cup team. So what does that tell you?

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