The World Cup ends Sunday with a no-surprise showdown between soccer powers Germany and Argentina. The Cold, Hard Football Facts love the World Cup. We don't obsess over it. But we enjoy the spectacle every four years. We'll drink in the finale.
What we don't love is the quadrennial cultural naval gazing of the America's sporting public that comes with the World Cup: why are so few Americans interested in a sport beloved around the world? And why is the United States a third-rate soccer power?
This needless introspection is fueled by soccer-ologists who tell us that the rest of the world worships the sport, therefore so should we. Forget, for a moment, the arrogance of telling a diverse nation of 310 million that it needs to adopt another sport just because it's popular elsewhere. Forget, for a moment, that the United States already has a rich, unique and diverse sporting culture, led by our own beloved form of football.
Let's look instead at two politically incorrect realities of international soccer. One, “global” soccer is actually dominated by a small cabal of powerhouses in Western Europe and South America. And two, the U.S. is the world's most successful international soccer nation outside these two regions.
Canadians are not big soccer fans nor good at it. Canada has qualified for only one World Cup, finishing 24th out of 32 contenders in 1986. Rough-and-tumble Australians prefer rough-and-tumble sports like “Aussie rules” football. Australia has sent just four teams to the World Cup.
China is the largest nation on earth, yet has qualified for only one World Cup, finishing 31st of 32 teams in 2002. India is the second-largest nation on Earth. It's never sent a team to the World Cup.
Just eight nations have won the previous 19 World Cups, all of them in Western Europe and South America. Five nations have won 16 of 19 championships: Brazil (5), Italy (4), Germany (3), Argentina (2), Uruguay (2). This tiny band of soccer brothers will soon account for 17 of 20 World Cup champs, regardless of who wins Sunday.
Only 12 nations have even competed in the 20 World Cup finals, all from Europe or South America.
The United States is not among this small clique. But it's far ahead most of the world in “global” soccer.
The U.S. is one of only 16 nations that has qualified for at least 10 World Cups. The American team this year advanced to the 16-team knockout round for the fourth time in six tournaments. It's unusual success for a nation outside the usual soccer-power suspects.
Hell, global powers England, Italy, Portugal and defending champ Spain all failed to advance beyond the 32-team first round this year.
So the U.S. is on the short list of powers if we look at soccer from a truly global perspective. And we compete at an elite level in soccer despite the fact our best athletes play football, baseball, basketball and hockey.
We need to adopt soccer no more than Germany or Argentina need to adopt American football. True sports fans shouldn't lecture the U.S. about its blasé attitude toward soccer. They should instead celebrate our success in the sport and revel in the diversity of the rest of our sporting culture.