After the USA was eliminated from World Cup contention, America’s “fever pitch” broke rather drastically. An average of 23.1 million Americans witnessed each of Team USA’s matches against Belgium and Portugal, however after a “Round of 16” departure, the US audience dwindled to 10 million for all 4 of the quarter-final events.
The World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina rebounded quite nicely with a record setting 30 million sets of red, white and blue eyeballs on ABC, ESPN and Univision. But if soccer really wants to capitalize with the capitalist and get the “lower 48” to start using terms like “fútbol,” “pitch” and “kit” on a daily basis, then it needs to grab hold of American youth in the same manner that hitting the game-winning home run, jump shot or touchdown was “Clockwork Oranged” into their cerebral cortex … via an iconic sports film.
Growing up, most of the intricacies of sports are lost on us during that precious time when a single digit represents your total years of existence in the universe, but there’s no need to understand statistics, team loyalty or even the rules of the game when Jimmy Chitwood “sinks it,” Rudy Ruettiger sacks the quarterback, or anytime the cameras are rolling and Kevin Costner picks up a baseball. Great films enhance our love affair with sports tenfold and give us something to aspire to before we know which sports we even truly like. Kids signing up in droves for Tae-Kwon-Do lessons after seeing Daniel Larusso crane-kick Johnny Lawrence to win the All Valley Tournament, or asking what directions a “rook” moves after being hypnotized by “Searching for Bobby Fischer” proves how powerful an influence the motion picture narrative can be even in sports or games with no easily accessible option to view them in the real world.
Anyone who’s ever picked up a baseball bat and has seen “The Natural” has fantasized about knocking out the field lights with a swing from their own personal “wonderboy.” That’s what soccer needs, a quintessential, iconic moment that rushes to the forefront of the mind the instant a kid puts foot to ball. As “Field of Dreams” celebrates its 25th anniversary, Rodney Dangerfield and Will Ferrell coaching a wayward group of kids should not still be the most notable American soccer films of the same timespan.
Until a passionate filmmaker can translate everything it is that we Americans “don’t get” into a film that can resonate with a US audience, garnering our full attention on soccer will continue to coincide with the same frequency as that of track and field and figure skating.