I want to celebrate like Spain
Published: Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 20:07
Watching the entire nation of Spain celebrate their Euro 2012 victory over Italy on Sunday made me very, very envious.
Not envious because I wanted Italy to win.
Not envious because I would love to live in Spain, or even travel there at some point in my life.
Not even envious because I wish I could kick a soccer ball with a smidgen of accuracy.
I was envious because I, as an American, have never had the chance to be a part of a nationwide celebration — no, a nationwide party.
Watch the videos on YouTube of the celebration in Madrid. It’s an endless cluster of fans jumping and cheering as far as the eye can see.
Spain is a country buried up to its neck in debt. The current unemployment rate is 24.4 percent and unemployment for people under 25 years of age is a jarring 52 percent.
But when the soccer team representing the entire nation goes out and wins the European Championship, becoming the first country to ever win three consecutive major tournaments, all of its real-life problems are temporarily forgotten.
Everything gets put on hold to celebrate the glory of defeating every other nation in the continent in competitive sport. This is bread and circuses at its finest.
Which brings us back to my envy.
In my lifetime, the only examples I can draw from for this kind of cultural phenomenon in the United States are the gold medal hockey game in the Winter Olympics between the United States and Canada, and Landon Donovan putting in the 90th-minute goal against Algeria to put America into the elimination round of the 2010 World Cup.
And using the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team is not a fair counter, because there were much greater implications involved. That was way, way more than just a hockey game because of the Cold War Era and the animosity between the Americans and the Soviets.
So, I’ve never had this experience — to be involved in something bigger than me.
And that needs to change.
There are two major problems. First, soccer is the fourth or fifth most popular sport in this country. It is the first in every other country in the world except for Canada (hockey) and New Zealand (rugby).
Second, most American-born players are just not that good. The reason being, all of this country’s best athletes are off playing the more popular sports and earning bigger bucks doing it.
If soccer is going to become more prominent here, it needs to happen at a grassroots level. The Northwest region of the United States has become a hotbed for soccer in recent years. The addition of the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps FC to Major League Soccer has added to the interest level in the area. Timbers Army is arguably the best fan section in the entire league.
But even from a Corvallis perspective, soccer is non-existent. The women’s soccer team has been solid — Chelsea Buckland even played for the Canadian National Team in last year’s Women’s World Cup.
The men’s team has had some notable players come through Corvallis (Robbie Findley and Danny Mwanga are the most famous), but hasn’t really achieved that much team success since 2003.
We live in a country that has the best basketball, baseball, hockey and football leagues in the entire world. In soccer, I might be stretching it by saying the MLS is in the top 50 soccer leagues around the globe.
Now that’s just sad.
There needs to be improvements to get competitive leagues better in the United States, which would then lead to more and more kids growing up wanting to play soccer, and the snowball effect would make soccer take off.
The ultimate realization I’ve had about Americans and myself in general when it comes to sports, is that we all love the best. All it takes is to be a winner and all is forgiven. LeBron James was the most hated player in the NBA, but when he won his first title, all of a sudden I’m seeing Facebook statuses and tweets galore stating why he deserved the title and shouldn’t have been so harshly criticized the way he was.
That’s the biggest problem the sport of soccer is faced with when trying to win over the hearts of Americans. It has to be a winner. The United States got to round 16 in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but that wasn’t good enough.
If enough communities around the country, like Corvallis, become affectionate toward the sport, and parents have their children play, and stick with, soccer in their youth, it could happen. For that to actually come to fruition, that kind of community-oriented soccer movement must occur in every corner of the nation.
That Spain celebration opened my eyes to what this country could experience: the ultimate party, all the way from California to New York. And there’s really no other way that kind of huge event can come to be without soccer.
The whole globe thinks of soccer first and foremost, but the United States has put it on the back burner for far too long.
Americans aren’t ones to conform, but I think in this case, they have to.
On twitter: @WStrausbaugh