What you missed while you were busy hating soccer and the World Cup

06/16/2014 10:10 PM

06/17/2014 8:44 AM

Hey, where were you? We missed you.

Well, actually, I may be speaking out of turn here. Technically, if we’re being completely honest, I did not hear any of the 10,000 or so maniacs watching the United States’ 2-1 World Cup win over Ghana at the Power & Light District say they missed you or any of your soccer-dismissing brethren.

Not out loud, anyway. Not with words. Or sign language. Or, really, anything. You know, full disclosure, if anyone here was thinking of you, it was probably well-represented by my new friend Ryan Freeman.

“(Expletive) ‘em,” he said.

He smiled at his friend, Kelly Waters.

“If you like fun, why wouldn’t you be here?” she said.

Then Ryan took a sip of his beer, and they laughed.

So, obviously, that’s not nice. And of the many obstacles keeping soccer from the sort of ubiquitous passion it has around the world is the obnoxious superiority and sensitivity of at least a loud minority of footy fans here.

But, as long as we’re being honest, they are not completely at fault here. They have been ignored, ridiculed and teased for enjoying a sport that most of this country still doesn’t care about anywhere close to the level of sports like baseball, basketball and certainly football. And it’s all just so counterproductive.

Because following Sporting Kansas City’s MLS championship last year, this World Cup in general and the scene here at the P&L District specifically should be the next step in bridging the slowly shrinking gap between soccer and more mainstream sports around Kansas City.

The United States is way behind the curve already, but soccer is coming here and it’s coming fast. The money is growing, MLS is growing, obviously parents are more aware than ever about football’s concussion problem, and the rest of the world sees America as a tantalizing market. Even now, there’s enough passion in Kansas City that Sporting sells out virtually every game and about 350 people bought VIP passes to watch Monday’s game — on TV.

So you can sit at home if you’d like, of course, and make all the jokes you want. Some of them will even be funny. Flopping is excruciatingly ingrained in the sport’s culture, there’s a certain strangeness in needing to sing or dance through an entire game, and it’s patently ridiculous to wear a scarf when it’s 90 degrees outside.

But you should know what you’re missing. You should know that you won’t be able to find a more fun-loving mix of black and white, patriots and partiers, tank tops and business casual, or sports fans and questionable alibis than are around soccer and especially the World Cup.

Depending on what happens with our local teams the rest of the year, you may not find a louder, freer, more joyous explosion of pride than when Sporting’s Graham Zusi assisted on the winning goal in the 86th minute. Flags waving, beads flying, U-S-A chants ringing off the walls and through your eardrums.

You should know that when it’s done right, soccer is played at a quick pace, with no commercial interruptions, through a beautiful symphony of collective cohesion and individual skill.

None of this is new, of course. Soccer has always been a beautiful game at the highest level, and the stories of the coming revolution here in the States are older than some doctors.

But we’re reaching a tipping point. Soccer is different from other sports outside the American mainstream in that you don’t hear so many people announce their apathy over, say, tennis or boxing. Soccer seems to strike a nerve, on both sides, with fans waking up early and putting on their kits to watch EPL games in the morning and haters making tired jokes about orange slices.

But if you’re among the proud soccer haters, you should know that you’re losing the fight. You should know that your insistence that soccer be kept out of newspapers and mainstream websites and off your television are increasingly drowned out by people demanding to know how bad Jozy Altidore is hurt and whether Matt Besler will be OK in time for the Portugal match on Sunday.

There will be around 10,000 people here watching that one, too. It’s the perfect opportunity to see what you’ve been missing.

Ryan and Kelly will be here. They’d love to help. Kelly even joked that I should put her phone number in this column for anyone who might be ready to embrace soccer but, well, let’s just say that Ryan’s reaction made me think he wants to be more than just friends.

No worries. There will be plenty of friendly faces here on Sunday. Just don’t make fun of the scarves.

They hate that.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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