Attention-grabbers

Brandon Zeeb is an FAU football player who has never played soccer in his life, but that didn’t stop him from texting me repeatedly to find out how a soccer team was doing.
 Not just any soccer team, but the U.S. men’s national team, whose recent run to the Confederations Cup final made established fans happy and created fans such as Zeeb, who clearly liked the idea of rooting for a winning American team.

The U.S. national team began the eight-team tournament — which is held a year prior to every World Cup in the host country, in this case South Africa — horridly, losing their first two group stage matches to reigning world champions Italy and star-studded Brazil by a combined score of 6-1. The results were not surprising (Italy and Brazil are much more talented than the Americans), but the manner in which the U.S. team played left a lot to be desired.

Then, something magical happened.

Heading into the final game of the group stage against Egypt, the Americans, who had received unprecedented heat by the media and fans for the losses to the aforementioned teams, bounced back in improbable fashion.

The U.S. defeated Egypt 3-0, and got help from Brazil, as they toppled over Italy by the same score to ensure the Americans’ passage to the semifinals of the tournament. The team rejoiced in their dramatic advancement, and some of the players even politely expressed their dismay at the unmatched criticism they had received.
“All the f—— experts in America, everybody who thinks they know about soccer, they can all look at the score tonight and let’s see what they have to say now,” midfielder Michael Bradley told www.soccernet.com. “Nobody has any respect for what we do, for what goes on on the inside, so let them all talk now.”

The lack of respect turned into newfound respect when the Americans stunned No. 1 ranked Spain in the semifinals. Spain had not lost in a record 35 straight games and had won its previous 15 matches, but goals from 19-year-old Boca native Jozy Altidore and midfielder Clint Dempsey ended those streaks as they sunk the Spaniards 2-0.

Right then and there was when America stood up to take notice of its soccer team.
Zeeb and many other non-soccer sports lovers texted me, the “soccer/futbol guy,” during the stunning victory.
“Wow, I’m at work and literally nobody in the office is doing anything because we are all watching the game,” reads one text message I received during the game. 
“Goaaaaaaalllllllll!” reads another. 
“Who we playing next?” asks another.

But it wasn’t just the text messages that caught my attention. I was coming across media outlets who were uncharacteristically running stories on the U.S. team, co-workers at my part-time job were chatting about the glorious run to the final, and even ESPN was doing more coverage on the sport that they so often make snarky remarks about.

As the days went by and the final against Brazil drew near, more and more people approached me about the game.
“Did you see the U.S.?” asked FAU student and UP staff writer Michael Allen. I responded with a simple “of course” and reminded him to watch the final.

The reminder was not necessary, as ESPN promoted the game relentlessly. Save for three World Cup matches, more American fans than ever tuned into ESPN’s coverage of a U.S. match in the hopes that they could bring home their first-ever international trophy.
In fact, of the top 10 cities that tuned in to watch the final, two were from South Florida. The West Palm Beach area took fourth place while the Fort Lauderdale-Miami area had more viewers than the notoriously diminutive markets of New York and Las Vegas to claim first place in the ratings. (Not too shabby, South Florida!)

On the field, goals from Dempsey and the prolific Landon Donovan gave the U.S. team a memorable 2-0 lead at halftime over the Brazilians. Perhaps even just as memorable as the perfectly played first half was Dempsey’s 10th-minute goal celebration,  a Michael Jackson trademark crotch-grab leg-kick to commemorate the pop star’s death.

But the game would not end positively for the U.S. as Brazil proved to be too much, scoring three second-half goals to defeat the Americans. The U.S. soccer pundits were as heartbroken as Dempsey, who burst into tears during the post-game awards ceremony, and the casual fans probably felt a bit of heartbreak too.

As for me, I could honestly say it was a bit of a downer to see the American team fall short of their first international trophy, not necessarily because they lost to Brazil, but because they lost a game they were leading 2-0 at halftime.

Regardless of the loss, the U.S. national team’s dream run to the Confederations Cup final has gained it more fans like Zeeb and Allen, fans who previously had no interest in soccer but are sure to be rooting the team on when they return to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup next June.