I read an interesting sports column this morning that made a few excellent observations. You may have noticed that the U.S. baseball team bowed out of the World Baseball Classic in ignominous defeat, failing to even reach the semifinals. It is the latest in a string of national failures on the part of highly paid star athletes on the international stage. A few months ago, the U.S. hockey team won just one game in the Winter Olympics. And, of course, the U.S. basketball team shed the “Dream Team” moniker years ago as we not expect the pampered NBA brats to fall victim to the likes of Argentina and Croatia.
So we should no longer be surprised when our pampered athletes underachieve on an international stage they just assume they will dominate. And they usually fall victim to a scrappier team that wants it more, playing with passion and for pride. Is the American sports reputation shot? Perhaps not.
The great irony is that America’s chance to redeem itself is in a sport that does not have the mainstream appeal of baseball or basketball. Soccer’s World Cup is, in the rest of the world, generally regarded as the Main Event in sports, bigger than the Olympics and every other competition. In soccer, our guys are the hungry and passionate side, out to prove that they belong. And, indeed, they certainly do. The US is now ranked 5th in the world according to FIFA, the sport’s international governing body, the highest ranking we’ve ever had. It bodes well as we head into the World Cup this summer. The US team is undefeated in international play thus far this year heading into a friendly (think exhibition) with perennial power Germany on Wednesday.
Would you believe that our soccer team is better than our baseball, hockey, and basketball teams? I love it.
Also, though it is unrelated, let me note how I relish the fact that the perennially overrated Big 10 Conference has been completely eliminated from NCAA tournament play. And either George Mason or Wichita St. will be in the round of 8….