Jonathan Last calls the quadrennial World Cup "The Ritual Attack of the Soccer Scolds":
But the thing is, you never hear football--or baseball, or ultimate frisbee, or tennis, or cycling, or hockey, or curling--or any other kind of fans railing against people who don't share their passion as if there's something morally and politically wrong with them. Why is it that soccer fans care so much about what American's don't care about?
In defense of the soccer scolds, there's a counter-ritual of soccer haters. It takes two sides to have a culture war. Still, there is something unique to American soccer fans about insisting that Americans do so love their sport, and if you don't love soccer then there's something wrong with you. Take Stefan Fatsis today in Slate:
The quadrennial story of whether soccer will ever "make it" in the United States is, as far as I'm concerned, dead. Sure, like those cicadas that emerge every 17 years, the World Cup is an occasion for a dwindling number of doofus luddites—the collective vestigial tail of the American media—to proudly trumpet their dislike, or ignorance, of the game. But any sports fan with a pulse was riveted by Team USA's second-half comeback tie against tiny Slovenia on Friday. I was in the stadium, among the fans, but I've heard from plenty of people back home who were mesmerized, energized, and ultimately outraged by the game.
First of all, there's something inherently hilarious about maintaining that the the conclusive demonstration of the ignorance of the non-soccer fan is... a tie between the United State and Slovenia. Really? That's the event you want to pick?
Second, if I wrote that "any sports fan with a pulse was riveted by Auburn's 38-35 win over tiny Northwestern in the Outback Bowl," I'd be laughed out of the room. But of course more people (5.69 million) watched the Outback Bowl (kickoff time 11:00 AM EST) than watched the U.S.-Slovenia match. Fetsis writes that he heard from many people who were enthralled by the U.S. tying Slovenia in soccer. I heard from many people enthralled by Northwestern coming back from a two-touchdown deficit twice before ultimately losing when a fake field goal attempt fell just short of the end zone. That's the thing about communities of interest in a huge country -- you can know a lot of people who think like you do while still amounting to a tiny minority. The difference between us is, I'm not under the delusion that if you don't love college football you're not a sports fan.
Again, I have no problem with the possibility of soccer becoming more popular. But let's be clear about what that means. Fetsis writes, "the potential for American soccer is unlimited given the size of the country, given the wealth of the country, given the demographics of the country." Another way of putting this is, America could become internationally competitive at soccer even if soccer remains a minor sport in the U.S.
Update: I've had some queries about Univision's ratings for the U.S.-Slovenia game. I don't believe they're available yet, but the combination would likely push the match above Outback Bowl levels.