- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2008

The UEFA Euro 2008 slogan is: “Expect emotions.” Organizers are expecting hooligans as well, which is a uniquely European characteristic, distinct from the University of Maryland athletic supporters holding bonfires and causing mayhem on Route 1 after the Terps have defeated the Blue Devils.

Euro 2008 is under way in Austria and Switzerland, the co-host nations who had to buy their modestly equipped soccer contingents into the 16-team, month-long competition.

The matches are being carried on ESPN, poker’s official sponsor. The availability of the matches should lure the enlightened sports consumer of America, ever convinced of soccer’s snob appeal.

They are Trix and Flix, in case you were wondering about the event’s mascots.

The U.S. is expected to be blasé to Euro 2008 out of ignorance, wrong as that notion is.

The usual contention of the globe that America somehow misses the essence of the sport is so last millennium.

As a participatory sport, soccer is immensely popular at the youth and high school levels in the U.S. Its egalitarian nature embraces those deemed too small by football, too short by basketball and too lacking in hand-eye coordination by baseball.

Go to any suburb in the region on weekday nights and on the weekends and you will find 22 tykes running around on a patch of green, their parents transfixed by the proceedings, even if a few of the tykes have absolutely no idea what is happening and seem more concerned with swatting flies than taking part in the action.

This scene has dominated the suburbs the last generation. It is so prevalent that it came to be identified as an important voting bloc known as the soccer moms in the political campaigns of the early ‘90s.

Yet our European friends still insist that we do not grasp the nuances and subtleties of their delightful game, which, to them, explains why its popularity is sluggish at the professional level.

Perhaps they do not want to accept the painful reality that we do grasp the complexities of soccer and are left indifferent by them.

This not about the lack of scoring in soccer, the ubiquitous 1-0 outcome.

Or the incessant flopping that one day should prompt the game’s leaders to come up with their version of an Oscar, which would be presented to the player who does the best job of acting as if both his legs have been severed by a machete-waving opponent.

They could call the award the Manu, so named because of Manu Ginobili, the NBA player who is forever crashing to the floor to elicit a favorable call from a referee.

Soccer is both growing and lagging in America. The comparison could be bowling. All kinds of Americans like to bowl. That is different from wanting to watch the best professional bowlers in action.

Soccer is a victim in part of this condition. Its youthful adherents gravitate to other team sports as adults, whether football, basketball or baseball. This is no knock on soccer. This is the product of a crowded U.S. sports marketplace and cultural prejudices.

And it cuts both ways.

The NFL could not sway Europe with its product, at least not in financially sufficient numbers, and that was that.

There was no whining on this end of the pond. There was no discussion of Europeans failing to understand the nuances of American football. If anything, many of us could appreciate how the uninitiated would be puzzled by the sight of two opponents forever holding secretive meetings on the field that result in three meters and a cloud of dust.

And let’s not get started on how the average European might see baseball as a game invented for those who suffer from Tourette’s syndrome.

The best thing that has happened to soccer in the U.S. in the last 10 years - besides Brandi Chastain’s strip-tease act - is the flood of Hispanics making their way to this nation.

They just might have their television sets turned to both Gol TV and ESPN the next month.

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