March 28th, 2012 by Matt Goisman
The past week certainly hasn’t lacked for sports stories: Tim Tebow’s move to the Jets, the rise of this year’s Final Four, the ongoing “investigation” of the murder of Trayvon Martin, even the return of Tiger’s wood (the golf club, pervert).
Adding the country’s inexorable march (in March, no less) back into baseball season, and it’s no wonder U.S. Soccer’s failure to qualify for the Olympics barely made a dent in the headlines.
And why would it? Who’d care? Not too many Americans watch soccer at all, and most of those who do save their patriotism for the World Cup.
Soccer is a four-year sport in this country, like volleyball, swimming or track: we care about it when an international competition comes around every four years, and that’s it. Volleyball and swimming, however, only have the Olympics. Soccer has two major-caliber international competitions, and they’re on offset four-year schedules.
Americans don’t care enough about to soccer to root for it every two years, so we make a choice: watch the World Cup, save the Olympics for more deserving sports.
It doesn’t help that the Americans have never, ever been a good Olympic soccer team. Seriously, the sport’s been played in every Olympics except two. Wanna know when we last medaled? 1904.
Three teams competed in the (I kid you not) St. Louis Games: a team from the Canadian city of Galt and two American high schools.
We took second and third 108 years ago. That’s the best we’ve ever done.
So the U.S. missed the Olympics. So what? What’s our country losing, exactly? Another meaningless finish in a sport few of us will bother watching anyway.
The people most disappointed by U.S.A. Soccer’s upcoming absence from the London Games seem to be the players themselves. They demand more of themselves than maybe anyone else on the planet. Certainly more than the fans.
“We don’t treat soccer like the big deal it is in every other country,” says my brother Jake, the biggest and onliest soccer fan I know.
U.S.A. Soccer either doesn’t understand this or denies it, instead perpetually advertising themselves as a team that can compete with soccer’s big dogs: Brazil, Spain, Italy and France. All that does is set the team up for disappointment and criticism when they inevitably fail to live up to their unrealistic, forced-upon expectations.
“We’re like a C+/ B- team, and we treat ourselves like a B+/A- team, where we’re expected to do well,” Jake says.
If anything, the national sports media’s refusal to treat the U.S.’s Olympic-qualifying failure as anything more than a passing blip shows a move back towards realism.
Now, our women‘s team has earned its depiction as one of the world’s elite teams: three golds and a silver in the four Olympic tournaments to date (and a ticket to London), plus two World Cup victories and a second- or third-place finish in the other four tournaments.
For most people, their happiest (or only) U.S.A. Soccer memories revolve around the women: Brandi Chastain ripping off her jersey victoriously in the 1999 World Cup, Shannon MacMillan winning the Olympic gold in 2000, Carli Lloyd scoring in overtime of the 2008 Olympic gold-medal match.
Meanwhile, what’s the best men’s moment you can think of? Probably something the 2002 World Cup, when we finished eighth.
Eighth. The men are so pathetic that an eighth-place finish merits fond memories.
I missed the 2002 World Cup while working as a summer camp counselor while it happened, so this is my only good memory of the men’s team:
A stoppage-time goal during a group-play game against a team with a somehow-worse World Cup resume than ours. Meanwhile, I can’t for the life of me remember a single men’s soccer game during an Olympics, and I usually watch a lot of Olympic coverage.
America’s absence from the Olympic soccer tournament isn’t going to negatively affect my Olympic experience. To do so, their presence would first have had to positively effect it in some previous Games, if only once.
But they haven’t mattered, even once. Without the men’s soccer team, Americans can turn their attention to the Olympians who might actually take home some medals: basketball, swimming, maybe women’s soccer. The media won’t have to saturate the airwaves with criticism of a program that’s rarely ever been good enough to compete on the biggest stage.
And knowing that, the media’s spared us from hearing too much about a team too inferior to even make it up the steps.