America embraces Beautiful Game
SEATTLE -- On Sunday, as Qwest Field swirled with glitter and noise at the end of the MLS Cup final, I couldn't help but think of
Last week marked the 20th anniversary of Caligiuri's so-called "Shot Heard 'Round the World," that looping goal in Trinidad that sent the U.S. national team to the 1990 World Cup in Italy -- the Yanks' first trip to the big dance in 40 years.
It also, I would argue, catalyzed America's modern soccer movement, or whatever you want to call it. A year earlier at the 1988 Summer Olympics, former U.S. captain
This wasn't simply a lack of knowledge; this was almost willful ignorance.
There was some truth to this -- if America only existed in the mainstream. There were plenty of outcasts who cared. They cared more than anything. They played in leagues and pickup games, and they followed the international game as best they could.
It wasn't easy back then. They had to wake up at the crack of dawn, lie about their age, and sneak into Irish pubs to catch the FA Cup on satellite TV. They traded grainy VHS tapes of
They were the ones who celebrated "The Shot" and screamed in anguish when
"We woke up a nation of semi-soccer fans," Harkes said. "It solidified the decision to hold the '94 World Cup here. Really, the 1990 World Cup was the first platform to prove to our country that we could compete on the world stage."
Which is why I thought of Caligiuri when Real Salt Lake captain
Beckerman, for my money, was the best player on the field on Sunday. Maybe not the most valuable in terms of earning RSL the trophy -- but over the 120 minutes, no one was more consistent or dominant in his position. The dreadlocked beast was, well, a beast.
"We played our hearts out," the skipper said. "We played our style of soccer. I think it's fun to watch. It's definitely fun to play. The star for us is the whole team. When we play well, it's because everyone is playing well."
Beckerman has to be a serious contender for the U.S. squad next summer in South Africa. Which is what this is all about in the end: competing on the world stage, as Harkes put it.
Twenty years ago, American soccer players had to "prove" themselves to their own country. After seeing Sunday's game in front of an electric crowd, we can safely say: mission accomplished. If the sold-out MLS Cup final -- and really, Seattle's embrace of the Sounders and the league all season -- proves anything, it's that Americans now believe in this game and believe that American soccer is important.
There's still a long way to go before we prove it to the rest of the world, but no one can say that Americans don't care. And no one is asking what a goal kick is anymore.