In a Sport With Little Scoring, Some Americans Can't Keep Score.Were you a sports troll this week? It's not a very nice thing to be, but apparently there's a good living in it. So if you were one of the nitwits who complained about how it just didn't feel right that the U.S. soccer team advanced in the World Cup after losing its game to Germany last Thursday, maybe you should compensate for being shunned by your more aware and decent peer group by filing that application to the Connecticut School of Broadcasting.
Not that the nitwits were confined to the lowbrow likes of semipro talk show callers. At the very snootiest level of sports commentary, Janet Macur of the New York Times wrote a snarky column about the U.S. advancing, too. Or it wanted to be snarky, but was held back by the essential humorlessness of the columnist.
The people who found the U.S. celebration after a loss confusing or disturbing must not have covered or watched much baseball in their lives -- like none, really. It is utterly commonplace for a pennant race for a division title or playoff berth to end with both contenders losing a single game, but one being eliminated through the harsh arithmetic of the sport. The winners celebrate the accomplishment of their season anyway, and they should. It's the victories of the past they're commemorating, not tonight's now meaningless loss.
So it is with the World Cup. I will be kind and assume that only unfamiliarity with soccer rather than the desire to get ahead through trolling was the source of the confusion here, but the opening rounds of the World Cup aren't really a tournament in the commonly understood U.S. sense of the word. They're a weird little three game regular season for 32 teams in eight divisions. The idea is to make the real playoffs. If you do, which is hard to do, then hip-hip-hooray and who cares how it looked. Or, as was once said by a coach of a sport Americans claim to understand, survive and advance.
Fans who cheered at the end of the Germany game are blessedly normal. Making the knockout round of the World Cup is an accomplishment worth shouting about. It means the U.S. team has reached the place where the big, fast kids play, and although it might not play there long next week, inevitable loss will be disappointing, but it shouldn't mean as much as the fact of the competition itself.
In my adult life, U.S. soccer has gone from an international bad joke to a respectable mid-major. We are Butler or Boise State. That's a phenomenal change, one of the most noteworthy sports events of said adult life. The cheerers have history on their side as well as patriotism and common sense.
The fretters need some regrooving, not that they'll get it. What I don't get is what becomes clearer and clearer to me day by ever more dismayed day.
The best path to the top in my former trade of sports commentary seems to be to deny that sports can provide anyone any happiness at all.