It’s the dog days of summer and the sport viewing options are limited, so I’ve been watching the Soccer World Cup. Well, sort of watching, anyway. The U.S. didn’t qualify, so I’ve got no one to cheer for and I really don’t get the game. This means that I fast forward until I see a goal has been scored and I rewind to watch how it unfolded. That 3-5 minutes is kind of interesting. Better than all the kicking the ball back and forth at midfield. Occasionally, if there’s a big upset brewing I’ll watch a bit more, but it’s a chore. Yeah, I’m an old school American and I just don’t get it. I just don’t understand how this is the world’s most popular sport and I never will.
But, that being said I’ve got a little appreciation for the sport and I can watch an entire match when the U.S. plays in the World Cup. It’s fun to watch the underdog Americans and I’ve always seen soccer as a model for what handball could be in the U.S. An imperfect model for sure, but a model nonetheless.
Recently, I binged listened to a 12 episode podcast series that brought back a lot of soccer memories that I had forgotten. This unlikely bingeworthy podcast series, “American Fiasco” chronicles the USA Men’s National team that finished dead last at the 1998 World Cup. At first glance this probably seems like the most unworthy story to ever listen to, but I thoroughly enjoyed it for a number of reasons.
1) The narrator, Roger Bennett, from ESPN’s Men in Blazers tells a damn good story with great interviews. This transplanted American Brit is just fun to listen to. Even if you hate soccer, which I essentially do.
2) In chronicling the 1998 team, it also tells the story of soccer’s growth in the U.S. The first few episodes, in particular, really captures what a waste land soccer in the U.S. was and how it has become “something” in the U.S. It sure gives you some perspective of how far the sport has come in the U.S. and what handball would like to achieve in the U.S.
3) The story is a compelling portrait of team dynamics. Anyone who has ever been part of a National Team will appreciate the interactions between the players and coach and the ensuing personality conflicts that ensue.
If you don’t have time for all 12 episodes I suggest that you listen to the first episode and the bonus episode with Dan “Big Cat” Katz, who hosts one of the top sports podcasts in the U.S., “Pardon My Take” at Barstool Sports. In that bonus episode Big Cat and Roger Bennett discuss what it will take for the typical American to become a true soccer fan. Incidentally, Big Cat tweeted the following to his 602K followers during the 2016 Olympics”
So his perspective on soccer as the prototypical American sports fan is an interesting take. One that surely resonates with the American handball fan who sees soccer’s growth and wonders, “Why not handball?”
A last personal note: Bizarrely, like Roger Bennett, I can often chronicle where I was during World Cup years. Bizarre, in that I am by no means a soccer fan. For instance, when Iran beat the U.S. 2-1 to eliminate any chance the U.S. had to make the knockout stages in 1998 I clearly remember being in Brussels, Belgium for a briefing at NATO HQ. How could I possibly forget the celebrations that erupted in the streets and thinking to myself, “C’mon. We suck at soccer so why are you celebrating our defeat? And, really, you like Iran better than the U.S.?”
Here’s hoping that someday a U.S. handball defeat strikes a similar chord. If that indeed happens, we will know for sure that we’ve arrived.