As we we peered into our TVs watching the FSC WC bid coverage or watched attentively at work or school on the FIFA website, all of us passionate fans were expecting to start off our day on a happy note. Instead Sepp Blatter opens the envelope and holds up a card with “Qatar” written on the front. We experienced a lot of emotions yesterday. Sadness. Shock. Frustration. But after thinking about it a little more, I came to the conclusion that maybe not winning the right to host the 2022 World Cup wasn’t such a bad thing for US soccer after all.
After seeing Facebook and Twitter blow up with messages that expressed our angst over the result, it was at least nice to see that people cared. It was yet another sign that soccer is growing in this country and that (this is going to sound corny) “the game is in us.” Although it really is in many of us, soccer has obviously not nearly reached its potential in the US. This is only perhaps the second generation in the US that is passionate about soccer. There was first the generation that grew up with the NASL that went on to take their kids to games at World Cup ’94. And then there is the current generation of soccer fans: a generation mixed with passionate college students, suburban soccer players, and the chic Starbucks goers that choose soccer because its “different.” Soccer in America is growing, and it is growing at a relatively fast pace. With all that in mind, I think that yesterday was a huge step in the American soccer fan’s understanding of the world’s game.
What do you want? We’ve only had about two “real” generations of soccer fans and the demands of US soccer are so tremendously high. The MLS formed in 1996 and yet we are already talking about becoming one of the world’s best leagues? This past decade is the first time in modern era that we have had “good” showings at World Cups and we’re already talking about winning it (Spain just won their first World Cup this year and they by a by far have a bigger soccer tradition than us)? And now we’re mad about not being able to host the World Cup for a SECOND time? We’re trying to catch up to the rest of the world’s soccer powerhouses in the span of a decade in a half. It just does not work that way…
I guess the primary reason for why we took yesterday so hard was because of, let’s admit it, our superiority complex. We go into the Olympics, and we expect to finish first in the medals count. We go into the World Basketball Championships, and we expect to win it. And when an NFL team wins the Super Bowl or an MLB team wins the “World” Series, they’re considered world champions. Unfortunately, one of the reasons for why soccer isn’t catching on as fast is it could be is because of this complex. A lot of mainstream American sports fans are puzzled by why American soccer isn’t the best and they tend to ignore the game because of this. But for those of us that DO follow the game, the lingering superiority effect is still there: clearly we have the best stadiums and infrastructure in the world, thereby we should get the World Cup whenever we want it. However there is a lot more that goes into selecting a World Cup host than for example, the host for the next Super Bowl. I mean you’re talking more than just sports here; you’re talking about politics, money, and development. It’s not just which country is the most capable of hosting.
All in all, I hate to admit that I’m actually OK with FIFA’s decision yesterday for a number of reasons. In 1994, the US was in the same shoes as Qatar currently is — a country hosting a World Cup for the first time that has very little to no interest in soccer. I’m sure there were many disgruntled Europeans that were pissed about the US getting the World Cup. Developing soccer throughout the world and using it as a tool to develop countries as well is something that I am a proponent for (however I am not going to be naive and say that this was the only reason for why FIFA chose Russia and Qatar as hosts; money…you know…oil and gas?… was certainly a factor). Second of all, if we did win the right to host the 2022 World Cup, it would just be too soon. I think soccer is developing at a nice pace in this country and we are still running on the momentum of having had the World Cup in 1994. Once this runs out in around 20-30 more years, then it would once again be our time.
Lastly, we must understand that our country’s world perception has gone down from last decade and the dollar has weakened. This would in-part explain how the USA got the ’94 World Cup, ’96 Summer Olympics, and the ’02 Winter Olympics and since then had unsuccessful bid attempts for the ’12, ’16 Summer Olympics and now the 2022 World Cup. Frankly, more people would have probably been pissed had the US got the World Cup, than the amount of people that are currently pissed about Qatar getting it. I strongly think that its the ups and downs of events like giving up a 2-0 lead against Brazil in the 2009 Confederations Cup Final, winning against Algeria in the last minute in 2010, and losing the 2022 World Cup bid is what will make the American soccer fan stronger. It’s this cycle of frustration, anticipation, anguish, and success that will make us on par with the rest of the big names in world soccer, not just necessarily money.