- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The United States suffered what should have been a gut-wrenching ending to a glorious day of soccer Sunday when Portugal scored with a few seconds left in — what, regulation? Time the officials tacked on at the end because they could?

Yet after this disappointing ending, we were told by soccer fans not to worry. A crushing tie? No big deal. The United States team is still in good shape to move on to the next round.

How good? They can tie Germany Thursday and still be in good shape.

In fact, the speculation is that perhaps the United States coach, Jurgen Klinsmann — a former German soccer star — may get together with his old team and agree to kick the ball around for 90 minutes, or however long the officials think the game should be, and settle for one of those emotionally fulfilling ties that will convert American sports fans to this great game.

Klinsmann has denied any such possibility. He did so while one of the leading newspapers in England, The Telegraph, published an expose that places Ghana — the opponent the American defeated 2-1 in the opening round of the 2014 World Cup — in the middle of a game-fixing scandal.

One former FIFA investigator told The Telegraph that the glorious World Cup itself is vulnerable to match fixing.

“I know that the World Cup is vulnerable to these criminal gangs because they have existing networks of contacts at all levels inside the game and they will look for any vulnerability they can find to exploit,” he said.

“Match-fixing is widespread. It is happening at every level and in many countries. Match-fixing syndicates with criminal intent have infiltrated all levels of football and sport from national, regional and onto international. FIFA needs to do more.”

Tell me again why America is supposed to embrace soccer?

I’m sure somebody will.

It’s a social crime to not be in lock step with the hipsters who have joined with the small group of adult soccer fans who actually are consumers of this sport in this country.

There’s a lot of them. World Cup television ratings are at a record high in America, and if you don’t know that yet, the hipsters will tell you. Not only that, but they’ll tell you how a once-every-four-years soccer tournament has higher ratings than the annual World Series or NBA finals.

You see, it isn’t enough to just enjoy the World Cup and that people decided to dabble in soccer for a few weeks. No, for the hipsters to get the full satisfaction they have to show they are smarter than you, more sophisticated than you — hipper than you.

This illustrates what I’ve always said about soccer — it’s the sport for people who don’t like sports.

We are hearing that this is the turning point for soccer in America — that this World Cup is a real measure of the interest in the international game that to date hasn’t registered much more than a blip on the regular consumption of sports by fans in the United States.

It’s what we heard in 1994, when this country hosted the World Cup. It’s what we heard in 2007, when David Beckham made his Major League Soccer debut before more than 46,000 at RFK Stadium against D.C. United. It’s what we have been hearing for four decades, with generations of young athletes playing soccer and then ignoring the sport as adult consumers.

But this time, the TV ratings say different, we’re told — even though the biggest flag carrier for the sport in this country, MLS, suffered a downturn in television ratings last year.

Soccer will grow in America. And someday, it will have a significant place at the sports consumer table in this country. But it won’t be because of the hipsters who are watching now, who will go back to their “True Blood” and “Top Chef” viewing parties when the World Cup is over.

Soccer will grow because the population of the people with passion for the sport is growing, as the demographics of this country change. Soccer will grow because fathers and grandfathers will pass on the traditions that they grew up, and the stories they will tell.

Soccer will someday be an American passion — but it won’t be because we’re talked into it by hipsters.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com

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