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Column: Soccer fever more like a cold

The soccer World Cup kicked off last week, sending sports fans around the world into frenzies of patriotic pride and leaving millions of Americans wondering where the heck their baseball highlights are.

Soccer, of course, is a huge sport in much of the world. According to a recent issue of Time magazine, the most recent World Cup championship game -- in 2006 -- drew 715.1 million viewers. Meanwhile, in the United States, people continue to wonder why the players don't just use their hands.

Soccer has long been touted as the next big sport in the United States, and bringing the World Cup here in 1994 was meant to provide the launching point for the game. A top-level professional league -- well, top level for the United States, which at the time placed it a small step above most European high school leagues -- launched not long after the conclusion of that tournament 16 years ago. Yet outside of the arrival of English star, Spice Girl husband and well-known bender David Beckham a few years ago Major League Soccer continues to rival the WNBA for national prominence. That ranks it behind the NHL and slightly ahead of that league that plays lacrosse in St. Paul on the national sports radar.

For all the kids that play soccer in their youth, all the traveling and high school teams, the game simply has never caught on in this country, and I'm not quite sure why. The game's got great athletes, enthusiastic fans and the ever-present potential for riots. Isn't that what every sports fan is looking for?

People complain that soccer is boring, but that's an argument I simply can't accept from a nation that calls baseball its national pastime. I realize there's strategic stuff going on in baseball that I don't understand, but there's strategy in soccer, too. And I don't have to wait for 10 guys to adjust their cups in between every play.

Some people complain about players faking penalties in soccer. It's certainly been an issue over the years, and even Sunday two German players clearly threw themselves to the ground with the vigor of men scrambling for the remote control to change away from the soccer game that's unexpectedly popped up on their TV. I'm not sure it's any worse than in basketball. And in soccer you can get in trouble for it. Those two German players were penalized for taking blatant dives.

I guess I don't really care if soccer ever really catches on here. I just don't understand the need people have to broadcast their dislike so loudly every four years when the game gets too big for even this country to ignore. It's like an entire country collectively shaking its head and saying, "Oh, rest of the world. When are you going to give up that silly little game of yours and turn on something truly exciting like professional golf?"

The game may never really catch on here, and that's fine. I just hope people don't look at me funny when I get one of those big plastic horns everyone in South Africa seems to have and start blowing it around Farmington.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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