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Volume 71, Issue 146, Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sports

Coke, men in tights and ADD to blame for U.S. losses 

Duke of Orleans

Ben Gegenheimer

Don't blame the members of the U. S. men's national soccer team for their lackluster showing and earlier-than-anticipated exit in the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Although the players, such as Landon Donovan, Claudio Reyna and DaMarcus Beasley, were responsible for mustering just one goal over a 270-minute span during their three matches in Germany, they cannot be held fully liable for our disappointment as a nation or as sports' fans. 

However, we are a citzenry that is obsessed with assigning blame. Therefore, in an effort to soothe your pain, I will tell you who is to blame for our team's fall from the largest showcase in the world of sports after just the first round of competition.

Coca-Cola: Not only does this Fortune 500 Company feed us an awesome (and seemingly addictive) product in their pretty red can, they also gave us a reason to believe that our soccer team was better than they actually were leading up to the start of the World Cup. Although Coca-Cola is well-known and consumed throughout the world, they are an American-based company. Therefore, it should have come as no surprise that when they teamed with FIFA (the international association of soccer) to sponsor the World Cup and compose the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Cup rankings, that the United States was ranked fifth. 

The bottom line is that FIFA was not going to overrule one of its biggest sponsors and deny the U.S. an unworthy top-5 ranking, and Coca-Cola, a finely-tuned marketing machine, was not going to deny the American people their dream of having a shot at world dominance in the country's least favorite major sport. But at the end of the day, Coca-Cola's mythical rankings proved to be just as false as the idea that a case of Coke would keep you from dehydration if stranded in the Sahara Desert. 

The NFL, NBA and MLB: The National Football League, the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball have long captured the interest of American sports fans. They have also captured the dreams of young athletes who are willing to combine hard work with their natural talent to pursue careers as professional athletes and potentially earn millions of dollars in any of these sports. Football, basketball and baseball are the top three sports in America, and therefore they offer top dollars to premier athletes. Football is No. 1 in the U.S., and the NFL's most notable star is arguably two-time league MVP Peyton Manning, who became one of the highest paid players when he signed a 7-year, $98 million contract with the Indianapolis Colts in March 2004. In 2004, the highest paid player in Major League Soccer was Freddy Adu, who earned a salary of $500,000 with D.C. United that year. 

Meanwhile, the most talented and marketable soccer player in the world, Ronaldinho of Brazil, has an annual salary of $29 million as a member of Real Madrid, a professional club in Europe where soccer is king. In addition, all of the sports advertising, marketing and television time is dedicated to football, basketball and baseball, with an occasional mix of professional tennis and golf. Major League Soccer will never be able to compete with the NFL, NBA or MLB in any of these respects. 

Ourselves: We are simply not a soccer nation. It's not because soccer is stupid or no fun. It just does not fit our pace of life in America. We live in a fast-paced, ‘gotta have it now' society. We like progression, success and exciting outcomes. In football we get touchdowns, in basketball we get slam dunks, baseball gives us the home run, golf even has the hole-in-one. In soccer, we're lucky to see more than one or two goals per game. Football is such a popular sport because it centers upon a series of plays with the offense moving forward, gaining ground and eventually scoring. In football, possessions may change only a handful of times in a single game. 

On the other hand, in soccer, the offense often retreats and gives up ground to reset itself. The offense moves backwards! And even when the offense does charge down the entire length of the field to score a goal, 90 percent of the time it comes up empty-handed as the opposing team steals the ball or swipes away an errant pass. The possession arrow changes nearly every two minutes during a 90-minute match. To us, there is just too much rise and fall action in soccer, with not enough rise and entirely too much falling.

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