There are three great shames in America today: 1) 98.3% of us
are hideously obese; 2) Zima; 3) we suck at soccer.

In the World Cup--the World's Greatest Sporting Event--the U.S.
just finished 32nd. That's only because there is no 33rd. In the
last four decades of the World Cup, we have scored a total of
five goals, ranking us just behind Upper Volta.

What's worse, in an informal poll an overwhelming majority of
Americans said they not only didn't care that we suck at soccer
but also would rather give Richard Simmons a soy-cream body
cleansing than watch an entire World Cup match. This, of course,
is very wrong. Each one of us in this country needs to wake up
and learn our lessons from this World Cup so that we can do
better in 2002.

For instance...

We don't smoke nearly enough. The nations that have done well in
this World Cup smoke like Dean Martin. Their fans smoke. Their
players smoke. Every shot of a coach during a game, he's
smoking. At one point Argentina's coach, Daniel Passarella,
sprinted onto the field with a cigarette in his hand. In the
future, American players should be able to dribble through the
midfield while carrying cartons of Kents.

We riot after the game. This is a problem. The great soccer
countries riot before the game. England's fans went triple
postal in Toulouse before a first-round match with Romania,
leading to numerous arrests and holes in heads where they didn't
used to be.

We're not passionate enough. To truly participate in the World's
Greatest Sporting Event, winning has to matter to you more than
life. In the U.S. we are too good at too many sports. This
divides our passions. The best soccer countries play only
soccer, and they only get to show the world how good they are
every four years. The sport matters. So far in this World Cup
more than 700 fans have been arrested, 3,200 injured and
hundreds teargassed. Three coaches were fired during the Cup,
the British press surrounded the home of the team scapegoat's
parents, and a French policeman was clubbed over the head with a
signpost by a German hooligan. All we ever do is turn over a
couple of cop cars. These people think Attica.

We play soccer with our feet. Great soccer is played through the
air, the ball bonging from one head to the next, for hours on
end. This doesn't result in many goals, but it saves the nets
from expensive wear and tear.

We write letters to the editor. This is a waste of time. When
true soccer fans get mad at sportswriters, they find them, chase
them down and break their collarbones, as they did to the
British Press Association's Andrew Woodcock during a traditional
pregame riot. The fans said Woodcock was giving them a bad name.
(Naturally, this lesson shouldn't apply to sportswriters who
write derogatory columns about the Chicago Bulls.)

We settle tie games all wrong. In our championships we like to
break ties by continuing to play the same game we were playing
before. This is not at all how they do it at the World's
Greatest Sporting Event. After playing 120 minutes of obscenely
defensive soccer, the World Cup switches to a completely
different game. Guys get to line up 12 yards in front of the
goalie for a wide-open kick that Jose Feliciano couldn't miss.
We need to try this. From now on, extra-inning games will be
decided by a quick round of home run derby, hockey games will go
to a figure-eight-off and NFL games will be settled by arm
wrestling.

We need Bill Laimbeer. How a team does in the World Cup is
determined mostly by its players' ability to reenact the death
scene from Othello after an opponent so much as sweats on them.
There have not been this many healthy men faking serious injury
since the Vietnam-era draft. One player, Bebeto of Brazil,
always looks as if the surgeons will have to come out and take
the leg off right then and there. In one game a guy got carried
off on a stretcher, recovered miraculously, hopped off and
rejoined the game. He'll play for Lourdes in the fall.

We lose too well. When Colombia's Andres Escobar accidentally
put the ball in his own net to suffer the ultimate
embarrassment--losing to us--in the 1994 World Cup, an angry fan
shot and killed him. This is much too harsh, of course, but a
broken collarbone would work, yes?

Anybody seen Scott Norwood?

B/W PHOTO: ROBERT BECK [Rick Reilly]

We riot after the game. This is a problem. Great soccer
countries riot before the game.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)