- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 19, 2002

America is getting a small kick out of soccer this week.

Germany is expected to remedy that.

Until then, how about those red, white and blue footballers?

We're No.8 in the world at the moment.

That is not half bad for a nation that treats soccer like the crazy aunt in the sports family. That does not say much for the rest of the globe, if we are No.8, and we are that, at least.

The rest of the globe believes in soccer with all its heart, and sometimes soul, too. One passionate man set himself afire to become a helpful spirit to the South Korean soccer team. He wound up in critical condition instead.

The U.S. soccer team is content to be the flavor of the moment on these shores, however fleeting the designation.

It beats trying to interpret the monosyllabic Roger Clemens and how Shawn Estes missed Clemens' ample rear end by a country mile.

Soccer brings out the G-string fervor in Americans.

That was Claudio Reyna who removed his jersey in celebration after the U.S. defeated Mexico 2-0. Nothing against Reyna, but the maneuver was easier on the eyes with Brandi Chastain.

To put the victory in perspective, it apparently takes a British accent, along with a "c" in offense.

The high number of British accents on America's airwaves is the first clue of seriousness. The second is the breadth of mind-numbing detail.

The message seems to be this: The U.S. is coming hard in soccer, and the part of Mexico that already has moved to California was in a no-lose situation.

So look out, you soccer snobs around the globe. You might not have us to boot around too much longer.

That possibly is our fourth- or fifth-string athlete in Asia.

We don't push our best athletes to soccer. We usually send our suburban mall adherents, the offspring of our soccer moms.

Basketball and football attract America's best athletes, baseball and hockey claim the next batch down. That leaves soccer to cull from the rest, and U.S. soccer in last place out of 32 teams in the '98 World Cup.

The rest of the globe often takes this as another sign of American ignorance, as if the rest of the globe would want to deal with Shaquille O'Neal in goal.

The indictment is out of bounds. Cultural things cut a lot of different ways.

Baseball is our soccer, the tedium of which is often broken by the need of the participants to chew, spit, scratch and swat dive-bombing bees. Europe, for one, is not at one with baseball, which is understandable. No offense taken on this side of the pond.

Baseball is a peculiar game that goes down best when introduced at an early age, often through a father-son game of catch in the backyard. You miss that and you miss the point of the mist in the eyes of middle-aged men.

The bond drives a few daffy, no doubt, to the point that they impose mystical-like qualities to the game. A few even know what Barry Bonds hits under a full moon against left-handed pitchers who have a cholesterol count of 176.

Soccer is like that in a way, steeped in nuance. Did you see that play? To which America says, "Not really. Hey, you, with the British accent, please explain."

The Germans better be ready, if they know what is good for them. The underdog has considerable more bite to it than originally thought, starting with coach Bruce Arena.

Arena is not liable to overstate the team's hold on America, considering one television network's effort to rename him Steve, the first name of the team's last coach.

Arena is not much of a politician, although he took a call from one before the game against Mexico. It was from the White House T-ball commissioner, President George W. Bush, who voiced a uniquely American hope. Whatever it is you are doing, Arena was told in so many words, keep it up.

That seems to reflect the mood of many soccer neophytes in America this week. We may not necessarily know what's what, but we know 2-0 and what it means to be in the quarterfinals.

We're No.8, we're No.8, we're at least No.8.

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