Haminu Dramani catches Reyna napping on the ball
(2006 World Cup)
Buried deep in the mountain of sports news on college football, NFL, and the baseball playoffs in the NY Times, Jere Longman writes about the US qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. It was not exactly on top of the sports news in the major broadcasting networks either. Some of this may have to do with the match’s limited airplay.
But more to the point, the feeling is sixth time around, the novelty has long worn off and it merits little attention. After all capturing one of the four CONCACAF spots is not exactly a coronation. It is what you do with it after that counts.
The US performing well in the Confederations Cup brought on a bit of mainstream news cycle and for a ephemera the team forced itself into the national consciousness (Barack Obama cheering on) but the fringe-y feel quickly returned once the competition was over. The World Cup qualifying has sprawled on in subterranean fashion.
However, this World Cup should feel different not just because every four years it attracts part time lovers of the world’s biggest sports spectacle but I think the US is positioning itself as actually doing well in a competition that really counts. Bob Bradley might have his detractors but he took a chance with Conor Casey and it paid off. The US was able to fight back after falling behind Honduras.
There is a settled feel to the team and in Landon Donovan they have a captain with a look in his eye missing from Claudio Reyna. And its been a long time since one has been excited by one player (Cobi Jones) but Charlie Davis brings that quality. The group of death in the 2006 World Cup did not help and the US needs a bit of luck with the draw but overall this team means business. I think we can look to less of those Haminu Dramani moments.
There have been false starts like the 1994 World Cup and the 2002 World Cup euphoria which have bred skepticism but there are deeper and more parallel processes in play with the USA bidding for the 2018 or 2022 World Cup and a president who seems to follow the sport as passionately as he can without detracting from his hoop dreams.
Soccer fits well into the USA’s improved image abroad as do the rapidly changing demographics with large immigrant and exurban populations growing up on the sport. Seattle is a successful example of a city that can support traditional US sports as well as the MLS. Similar demographics favour MLS expansion into the Raleigh Durham and Austin areas. And big European clubs now recognize the depth of of interest in the US market. The record breaking attendances following Chelsea, Barcelona, and Real Madrid in their preseason showed that there is an audience for good soccer.
The sport with its much higher profile stands to gain from more media attention devoted to it. But first, nothing breeds success like success. The US has another chance to prove that this World Cup.