Tens of thousands of American fans attended the World Cup in person — a first. These were not hardcore soccer fans, nor eccentrics, nor backpackers crossing Europe who stumbled upon the game. These were sports fans. They may have come to see a curiosity, but came away with the bitter, first-hand knowledge of both how harsh and how poetic the game can be.
On Thursday, those fans remained in their seats long after the game had ended, holding flags, looking glumly down at their laps. They had learned a valuable lesson.
Soccer in the USA will never be as it is in Europe or Latin America. It should stop trying. Soccer will never be a proxy for religion or a stand-in for battles in pasts, recent and distant.
What soccer can be, however, is a sport that Americans define themselves by in the same way that fans define themselves by their baseball team or city’s NBA franchise. The tribalism of soccer in America will reflect itself not in its opposition to other groups or clans, but to other sports themselves. A consumer culture such as America, can expect nothing more.
This American team heads home with many questions. What is the fate of the mercurial Landon Donovan, who looked dazzling against Italy and childish against all other comers? And how could the Americans, even ignoring the inflated status FIFA imposed upon them, show such heart and yet disappoint so utterly?
And of the players that came: Why did some of them not even suit up?