Thursday, May 27, 2010

Maybe This 'Soccer' Thing Is Catching On ...

The U.S. national soccer team had a "farewell and good luck" session with President Barack Obama today at the White House.

So maybe this "soccer" thing is catching on in the States, where "football" is a game played with a pointed ball and by very large men in helmets.

The significance?

That has never happened before, as far as my research indicates.

Bill Clinton was in the stands at Chicago in 1994 for the opening match, but it didn't involve the host nation -- it was Germany vs. Ecuador, as I recall.

In 2002, President George W. Bush called the U.S. team ahead of its second-round match with Mexico (a victory). In 2006, he called ahead of the opening match against the Czechs (a defeat).

And before Clinton, U.S. presidents couldn't be expected to know the national soccer team from any other 23 young guys rounded up off the streets. Soccer was an inconsequential sport. Didn't matter.

Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated recaps some history of U.S. presidents and the World Cup, and it isn't a lengthy retelling. (Betcha $100 that President Herbert Hoover not only didn't know about the U.S. team at the 1930 World Cup ... he didn't know the World Cup existed.)

Obama reportedly told the players, "We're going to be proud of what you do in South Africa. And you will have somebody in the Oval Office watching ESPN to make sure things are going OK."

Rumors are that Obama will travel to South Africa if the Americans get out of Group C play.

OK, it wasn't a complete triumph ... Obama appears to have been doing a "meet the athletes" relay. Before chatting up the soccer lads, he congratulated the Duke University men's basketball team that won a national championship.

But, yeah. This soccer thing ... it may be at a tipping point. A bit of success this time around ...

American proponents of the game called soccer "the sports of the future" for so many years that critics responded by tweaking that statement with this: "Soccer is the sport of the future ... and always will be."

Actually, the future may finally be here, for the U.S. game.
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