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Gazzolo: Americans still struggling to grasp the game of soccer

Last Modified: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 8:05 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

Never have so few made so much about so little.

Tuesday night the U.S. soccer team beat Mexico 0-0. That’s nil-nil for all you purists.

That’s right, the scoreless final was considered a great victory, even an upset in the soccer world, because the United State is not expected to beat Mexico. Not in Mexico City and certainly not in a World Cup qualifier.

American soccer crazies believe this is a great sign for the sport, which has a solid following in this country but hardly has taken over like many expected going all the way back to the late 1970s.

Talk then was how soccer would pass by baseball, football and basketball to become No. 1 in America, like it is in the rest of the world.

While you can see youngsters playing in droves every night in parks all over the land, the game has not passed up the rest professionally. Instead it has remained about the same, with interest peaking every four years with the World Cup, though the U.S. men have never really been a contender to win the championship.

Now here we are again, watching a team and hoping for one great run to ignite a fire that could finally lead to the soccer revolution many have predicted.

Yet we are talking about a tie.

That seems to be a lot to do about nothing.

Watching the match, which I did albeit by replay, I came to realize the Americans seemed to be outplayed. Mexico had the only real chances at scoring and the U.S. got all the big calls.

That happens in sports so you can’t make much out of it, but what struck me was how the game was played.

It seemed the U.S. was playing for the tie almost from the start. Clearly a tie is not what the Mexican team was gunning for.

This is what makes it hard for the general sporting public to grasp the game of soccer in this country.

We play to win, most likely to a fault. Winning is everything in the American sports culture.

Maybe going for the tie was the right thing, sure sounds like it when you talk to soccer experts. It just seems to go against all that we grew up learning when it came to playing sports.

Hockey no longer allows ties, neither does football, basketball or baseball.

Even golf has sudden-death holes. But soccer is different.

The U.S. team is on a roll, if you listen to the soccer folks. They are likely to qualify for the next World Cup and with each match excitement builds.

What have they done to get on this roll?

In the past two matches the Americans have scored one goal. It was worth a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica just about a week ago in the snow in Denver.

The snow made for some nice pictures but it also gave Costa Rica a reason to protest the match, which it did and lost.

That means 210 minutes of playing plus injury time, the last two American qualifying games have offered up one total goal for excitement. That might make for a lot of drama, but it also made for a bunch of down time.

Soccer folks will tell you that is good play, but when you are trying to sell a game to this country, I think you are going to need more action.

Baseball has been criticized and its numbers are down because over the years the game has become too slow, too void of action.

It would be nice to get caught up in all the patriotism and rally around the flag and all, but even the World Cup is big business and, in the business of sports, action sells.

There may come a time when the experts are right and their prediction almost four decades ago of soccer ruling the American sports world comes true.

If that happens I just hope it comes with a few more goals along the way.

• • •

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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