Americans still long for their first Neymar, Ronaldo or Messi. They’d settle for a Samuel Eto’o, Xherdan Shaqiri or Radamel Falcao. In America, people just want their first star, somebody who can put fútbol on the national map.
But they won’t likely see that national star emerge in Brazil in the weeks ahead. During the 2014 World Cup, they will see a team of pedestrian overachievers; they will see a collection of players like DaMarcus Beasley, serviceable talents but men who likely won’t get Americans to look at soccer as anything but a niche sport.
So that’s the challenge that awaits Beasley, a four-time representative of the U.S. World Cup team, as he does his part to grow the game.
Beasley’s roots run deep into the sport. He is from a soccer family. He grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he starred on the high-school stage in the mid-’90s. He followed his older brother Jamar onto the national stage and has remained there since.
What neither of the Beasley brothers has been able to do is build a massive following for fútbol American-style. Nor have the U.S. Soccer Federation with its deep pockets, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America and Major League Soccer, which brought in aging international stars like Thierry Henry and David Beckham in the past decade to stoke interest among youth in soccer.
Americans, however, are too jingoistic to put their passions behind foreign-born talent. While they respect a Henry or a Beckham, they don’t pack MLS stadiums to watch teams play, not as they do stadiums where real football – not fútbol – is played.
In the next weeks, DaMarcus Beasley and his teammates have a challenge: win big. They have a chance to shine a spotlight on their sport; they can do what all the hundreds of youth camps, the thousands of the traveling squads, the scores of international friendlies haven’t been able to do.
Not that interest in fútbol in the United States hasn’t grown, because interest has grown.
Games are everywhere on network TV, a mere click of the remote control away. Soccer leagues for youth are catching up with baseball as the sport of boys and girls of a certain age. But interest here in fútbol isn’t an obsession as it is in Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, England, Germany, France, Italy, The Netherlands and Mexico.
The international game – the “beautiful game” as Brazilians call the sport – is little more than a distraction, particularly for Blacks. They have not a single reason to pour energy into fútbol . Its reputation for racism and its monotony of passing that seems as if it amounts to nothing are as appealing as curling and the Winter Olympics.
For that to happen in the World Cup, the 32-year-old Beasley, Michael Bradley, Carlos Bocanegra and others will have to make it through the “Group of Death.” They will have to show a nation that their collection of talents can match the brilliance of Mesul Ozil of Germany, Wayne Rooney of England and Andres Iniesta of Spain.
To do so will give fútbol in the United States the kind of national profile it can’t get from the endless soccer camps Beasley and the USOC run to teach the world’s game to a country that likes its football played on a gridiron and not on a pitch.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)