...but in a backhanded way.
Real soccer-mad nations have a set of distinguishing characteristics: a tendency to shut down whenever the national team even thinks about playing a friendly versus Malta, hordes of singing, face-painted-like-the-flag partisans, and hysterical overreaction to all things at all times. If this was an actual soccer-mad nation, something like Tuesday's 0-3 bitchslap at the hands of the Czechs would be met with headline sizes usually reserved for the outbreak of a World War. ESPN.com would put up a poll discussing the proper punishment for Bruce Arena:
A. Placed in stocks and spanked on ABC by Marv AlbertE would win, as the horror of it would far outstrip even option D.
B. Fired, re-hired, fired again, re-hired again, and then shot.
C. Testicles make fantastic voyage through wood-chipper
D. Put in a room with Dick Vitale, Marcelo Balboa, Stephen A. Smith, and Bill Walton
E. Forced to watch a tape of the game
So it's a mixed blessing that the USA is in no way, shape, or form soccer-ma-- what's this? Do I hear a storm, even a small one, of petulant bitching? Indeed, I do. there are two main themes: "Reality Czech" and "We Waited Four Years For This?"
The latter camp seems to think that soccer evaporates for four years and re-emerges for the World Cup, ignoring the whole qualifying process. That in and of itself is progress of a sort since the USA has gone from scraping a Miracle-on-Grass team of college kids and naturalized foreigners together to the number one team in CONCACAF and a guaranteed entry in World Cups from here to eternity.
Pats on the back for everyone, then, but the guy who guided the team through the last eight years of competency probably needs a result against Italy to prevent a "Fire Bruce" campaign. In almost any other country in the world he'd be a guaranteed goner mere weeks after his fawning coverage in the NYT and everywhere else. This too is progress of a sort, but not the sort that gets you to the second round.
A note on soccer fandom. Perhaps I should have made this clear earlier: I am perhaps the very definition of the undiscerning sports fan. I gave up the ghost a few years ago when I sat at least moderately enraptured by a bunch of dudes riding bikes. I am now resigned to the fact that I'll watch nearly anything that can be vaguely defined as athletic competition as long as there's a chance there might be some nut with a flag and painted face screaming incomprehensibly.
It's actually worse than that, since the aforementioned is not a necessary component. Nor is... well... anything. I am notably silent on the offensive notion of nonstop poker on ESPN because I like televised poker. (There but for the grace of God go you.)
So be gentle with your barbed comments, as I am clearly handicapped.
A second note on the goddamned Mexicans. This is not like a collegiate bowl game featuring some also-ran from your conference. Mexico, despite being the USA's bitch for the past eight years, is seeded by FIFA and their stupid, stupid minds. Thus, instead of Ghana, Italy, and the Czechs they get candy fluffy soft group: Portugal, Iran, Angola. Mexican WC victories only further the Mexican lead over the US. And that's not even getting into the whole "Osama Bin Laden" chants in their country which is smelly and poor or their attempted murder of Cobi Jones or their freakin' ponytails.
You hate Mexico. You root against Mexico. You call the INS on anyone you see rooting for Mexico even if you know damn well they're a citizen, because someone should be told. There will be no discussion.