Posted: Tuesday June 20, 2006 1:57PM; Updated: Tuesday June 20, 2006 8:54PM
Speaking of talent working in concert, I can't write about the World Cup without mentioning the television coverage of the event. While the game announcers have been passable, despite errors sprinkled into the coverage, the studio shows have been wildly uneven, and therefore terrific. (Confession: At a press event a few weeks before the World Cup, where ABC/ESPN's announcers were introduced to other media, I overheard one of the World Cup studio hosts asking someone how to pronounce "Tottenham Hotspur" before giving a speech to introduce Spurs fan and ESPN bossman John Skipper.) Hands down, the highlight of the studio shows has been the interplay between Alexi Lalas and Eric Wynalda, who either genuinely don't like each other or are really good at pretending they don't like each other. At one point I thought they were going to come to blows while discussing the U.S.-Czech Republic match. ESPN should give these two their own show immediately, if they can carve out airtime among reruns of World's Strongest Man. And then there's Brent Musburger, who trades in hyperbole as if he were getting paid by the word. His bombast runs diametrically opposed to the central theme of soccer, which is that the game is about flow and pace, not faux emotion and folkisms.
For the first time in my lifetime, the general sports fan seems to have opinions about soccer. When Bruce Arena didn't sub Eddie Johnson in late against Italy, there were posts on message boards from sea to shining sea asking why. I read columns in newspapers from Detroit to Dallas about how the U.S. needed to improve from its showing against the Czech Republic. Even Peter King mentioned U.S.-Italy in his Monday Morning QB column. (King also said Bruce Arena "seems like a noncommunicative dork" to him. I always thought Arena looks like Tommy Hilfiger.)
What's great is that we're really only beginning. For decades now, U.S. Soccer has toiled mostly in anonymity, with a small but devoted group of fans rooting for the Nats and a huge but uninterested group completely ignoring them. But now it's different. If sports talk radio proves that everyone has an opinion, a sputtering U.S. soccer team -- they've put only one shot on goal through two games -- has given people something to form opinions about. In most soccer-playing countries, fans have decades of glory and anguish and pain to draw upon and use as a measuring stick. As I mentioned to a friend last week, Brazil has won five World Cups. The U.S. is still creating history.
The mantra for almost every country in the World Cup is that perhaps this will be our year; the letdowns are in the past, and it's time to build on that and move forward. The U.S., we're still building.
Game of the Week
Since we closed with patience, here's something to test yours. For some reason this putt-putt game is called Dumbolf. And at first glance it seems pretty dumb, indeed. But after I played it for an hour straight on Saturday night, it was obvious that the only thing dumb was me. It's slow but difficult.
Lang Whitaker is the online editor at SLAM magazine and writes daily at http://www.SLAMonline.com.