Column: Line Drives — Cup makes us all soccer fans

[This is my column in the June 26 issue of The Commercial Review.]

#OneNationOneTeam

#1N1T

#USMNT

There’s even — much more conceited, mind you — #RedWhiteAndBetterThanYou.

Those are just a few of the hashtags used on social media showing support for the U.S. men’s soccer team for this year’s installment of the World Cup.

Personally, I’ve used the first three. I find the last one of the four slightly distasteful. After all, the United States has never made it to the finals, so history tells us the USA is by no means better than anyone else in soccer.

But this year, the Americans are making their case that they can contend with some of the top competition in the world.

Their performance thus far is example enough.

In what has been dubbed the “Group of Death,” the United States was faced with the task of squaring off against Germany and Portugal — ranked second and fourth respectively by FIFA — and also Ghana in order to get through pool play.

In its opening match, the U.S. took care of Ghana thanks to the contributions of a couple second-half substitutions, and came away with a draw against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal after having a 2-1 lead heading into extra time.

Ronaldo, who was a non-factor for the first 93 minutes of Sunday’s match, made a perfect cross to Silvestre Varela for the game-tying goal.

And now, to get into the knockout round for the second straight Cup, the U.S. controls its own fate. A win or draw today against Germany and it advances. If the U.S. loses, then things get complicated, as it will come down to the result of the match between Ghana and Portugal.

The support throughout the country is something for which Americans can be proud. While the sport may not be as popular in our country as it is abroad, Americans who rarely — if ever — watch soccer are coming out in droves to support their countrymen.

Sunday’s match against Portugal was the most watched soccer match in United States history, with more than 18 million people tuning in. That number jumped to nearly 23 million during the final minutes, according to Monday’s announcement by ESPN.

Watch parties have been popping up throughout the country, led by the American Outlaws, the official support group for the men’s national team.

Thousands of soccer fans have poured into Chicago’s Grant Park for the USA’s first two games. Boston City Hall Plaza and American Airlines Arena in Dallas have also hosted parties.

And Detroit will be joining the fun today when it hosts one of its own in Cadillac Square.

What is surprising, though, is not the number of fans who have come out of the woodwork, so to speak, to cheer on their national team. It is the number of soccer fans who are shunning those who “just now decide to become fans.”

Whether it is every four years for the World Cup, or some random Olympic sport such as weightlifting, fencing or synchronized swimming, it’s not so much about the sport as it is about the teams and countries represented. I support my country in any way possible.

I’ll admit the only time I watch soccer on television is during the Olympics and World Cup. I would say my knowledge of the sport is greater than the average fan, but I can only name three players on the current roster, and one who was left off.

For USA’s first two games, though, I’ve been glued to the television, and I did my best today to watch it during work hours.

You won’t catch me watching a Major League Soccer game anytime soon. An international soccer match, though, is a different story.

But what it comes down to is that we live in the United States, we’re American and the 23 players on the national team are representing each and every one of us, no matter if we are soccer fans or not.

If some choose to be fair-weather fans, so be it. They are helping put soccer in the limelight — even if it is just for a month.

Those who follow soccer regularly should not be pointing fingers at those of us who don’t. Just be happy we’re showing we care about how the Americans compete against the competition.

Because when it’s all said and done, we are indeed one nation, one team.

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