Will Soccer Stick?

On Saturday, for reasons I would not like to relive, the United States was eliminated from the 2010 FIFA World Cup. After the team’s dramatic victory over Algeria on Wednesday, I went all out for their match against Ghana. My family and I went all out, digging out American flags left over from Independence Days past and decking ourselves out in red, white, and blue. My dad and I researched local sports bars so we would watch the big game in the perfect place. We finally settled on Kim Bokamper’s Bokamper’s Sports Bar & Grill in Plantation. The atmosphere and food were great. It was like the 4th of July.

Unfortunately, like I said, the game didn’t go so great. It was nothing short of a heartbreaker. Afterwards, as I was reflecting the successes and struggles of this American team, I thought, “Could this come at a worse time for U.S. soccer?”

After Landon Donovan’s heroics against Algeria, Americans were pumped. One moment the U.S. was just minutes away from elimination, and the next moment they had actually won their group. (The last time the U.S. had won their group was back in 1930, at the first ever World Cup.) The team officially became news when the mainstream media jumped on the bandwagon.

But with the increased media coverage came expectations. The U.S. already came into the tournament with some goals (pun not intended) and repeatedly said that if they didn’t advance out of group play, it would be a “failure”. Despite some adversity in the group stage, things ultimately went in favor of the U.S.:

“Rare will be the times when the U.S. will have a group stage as navigable as the one it enjoyed in this tournament. Even rarer will be the World Cups where the entire bracket will break as kindly as this edition did. A place in the semifinals was not beyond the Americans.” Jeff Carlisle, ESPN

Maybe it’s sentiment like this, that the U.S. was poised to make a deep run into the World Cup, that got people’s hopes up, because now that the Round of 16 was starting, it seemed everyone was watching. The anticipation for Saturday’s match was absolutely ridiculous, in the best way possible. The U.S. men’s soccer team finally got people’s attention.

And then they lost.

So what now? Sure, players and fans will first take the time to lick their wounds. But it’s never too soon to start looking towards the future.

Discussing the future of the players is one thing. Over the next four years, as the team works to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, they will lose some of their key veterans. The younger players will gain even more experience, though, and now Coach Bradley (should he stay) will know exactly which areas need to improve. There is certainly a lot of potential.

But will Americans care? That’s really the question I’m getting at. Americans are notorious in the international community for not warming up to soccer. Our national pastime is baseball and our religion is football- the kind played with a pigskin. Soccer just isn’t a priority for the majority of sports fans in the U.S.

That’s slowly changing though. The United States hosted the 1994 tournament, suburban soccer moms are now part of our national identity, World Cup matches are earning record ratings, and growing numbers of immigrants are bring their passion for soccer stateside. The U.S. is in the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups (sign the  petition here).  Still, that’s no guarantee that soccer and the World Cup are now part of our national consciousness.

Now that America’s ride in the tournament is over, it’s time for people to hop off the bandwagon. After all, the loss against Ghana was a bitter disappointment (mostly because it was our fault). And it happened just as when excitement in the team was peaking- we were ready for more. Instead, we’re out. The U.S. failed to advance in front of one of their biggest audiences. This loss was a wasted opportunity, not just for the team’s future success, but they lost a chance to really hook fans on the product: soccer.

Even if the U.S. improves in the next few years, chances are they won’t be elite. So is it worth it to keep rooting for them? And what about the World Cup as a whole? Will there be a dip in ratings now that the U.S. has been eliminated? Or will fans stay interested? Will soccer actually begin to matter to Americans?

Even though I feel a bit deflated after the loss, I really am starting to appreciate soccer and the World Cup- this is intense stuff. I’m definitely not an expert on soccer, but I’m learning a lot this summer. So I’m going to stick around and watch this play out, and I hope lots of new soccer fans will join me.

What about you guys? As always, let me know what you think in the comments!

~ Sarah

You’ve Got a Friend in Me

Today’s the day my generation has been waiting for: the release of Disney-Pixar’s Toy Story 3. If you haven’t been looking forward to watching the conclusion to the Toy Story franchise, then I’m not sure you had a childhood, honestly.

It all started back in 1995:

Seeing as I was five at the time, I didn’t realize what a landmark Toy Story was. It was the first feature film released to only use CGI. Perhaps most importantly, it was the first film by the critically-acclaimed studio Pixar. Over the last fifteen years, it’s hard to find a movie studio that has been as successful as Pixar. The company has already won 22 Academy Awards. And just think of the film classics they have brought to audiences:

Toy Story, 1995
A Bug's Life, 1998
Toy Story 2, 1998
Monsters, Inc., 2001
Finding Nemo, 2003
The Incredibles, 2004
Cars, 2006
Ratatouille, 2007
WALL-E, 2008
Up, 2009

And finally:

Toy Story 3, 2010

So many memories! I honestly can tell you about the first time I saw so many of these movies. Who can forget the Finding Nemo phenomenon? I think my favorite Pixar movie has to be WALL-E, but the opening scenes of Up were absolutely beautiful. Pixar has made us laugh, cry, and laugh again over the years: their movies are masterpieces. The studio has made going to the movies fun again.

Toy Story holds a special place in my heart. It’s one of the first movies I vividly remember seeing. (The others were all Disney too, of course.) I’m also around the same age as Andy; we kind of grew up together, in the cinematic sense. And the story is universal, the close bond between young child and toy. It’s so much more though: the Toy Story films have been about growing up. It’s a journey we all inevitably have to go on.

I cannot wait to go to the movies tomorrow-I’m going to make it an event. What about you guys? Are you excited to finally see Toy Story 3? What’s your favorite Pixar movie?

~ Sarah

Day 50

A few years back, the History Channel aired a mini-series called 10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America, featuring events as diverse as the McKinley assassination and the first time Elvis Presley appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. If someone was to re-do that series now, they would almost certainly add April 20, 2010 to the list.

Deepwater Horizon Explosion

Today marks a milestone no one wanted to reach- fifty days since the start of the BP Gulf Oil Spill. Late on the night of April 20, the Deepwater Horizon, an offshore oil rig, exploded, causing a fire. Although most of the workers on the rig were successfully evacuated, 17 were injured and 11 missing and presumed dead. Two days later, on Earth Day, the rig finally sank and an oil slick appeared on the water’s surface.

The oil leak wasn’t officially confirmed until that Saturday, the 24th. Four days later, the U.S. Coast Guard estimated that each day 210,000 gallons (5,000 barrels) of oil were seeping into the Gulf of Mexico. On May 4, just two weeks after the initial explosion, oil began reaching Louisiana’s barrier islands. According to government estimates released on May 27, between 18.6-29.5 million gallons had leaked into the Gulf. The BP oil spill is now the largest in U.S. history. (By comparison, 11 millions gallons of leaked during 1989’s Exxon Valdez oil spill.)

The oil spill, as seen from space, as of late May 2010.

Not even a week later, on June 1, the oil hit Mississippi and Alabama. Just this past Friday, tarballs washed ashore in Pensacola, a city on Florida’s panhandle. It was a day millions of Floridians, myself included, were dreading.

I won’t go too much into the politics of this whole mess. BP and the U.S. government have both been ineffective these last few weeks and need to take ownership. BP’s efforts to cap the leak- the leak that’s 5,000 feet underwater- have been moderate successes at best, futile at worst. To say the oil giant is facing a PR nightmare is an understatement; to counter, BP is spending millions on advertising instead of clean-up.

More images from the Gulf.

We are now fifty days into the worst environmental disaster in the country’s history. And ironically enough, it’s World Oceans Day.

The more I read and see about this story, the more heartbreaking it gets. It’s the animals- the birds covered in sludge, the dolphins dying. It’s the priceless wetlands- the unique and fragile ecosystems of the Gulf. It’s the people- the countless families who practically lost their livelihoods the moment the leak began. For now, we can only see the oil at the surface, just like we can only see the surface of the damage that has been caused.

The oil spill couldn’t have come at worse time. It happened in the middle of spring, a time of growth and renewal for nature. Spring is absolutely critical- it will take years for the animals and environments of the Gulf to recover. Hurricane season is now upon us. God forbid a storm sweeps through the Gulf and lets the oil rain down inland. Along with hurricane season comes summer, a crucial time for tourism in the South. In so many places along the Gulf, such as Grand Isle and Florida especially, tourism dollars make the economy go around.

Last summer, I made two trips to Florida’s Gulf Coast. Now more than ever, I am incredibly grateful to have seen first-hand the beauty of Marco Island and Naples. (*These are my personal photos.)

I don’t know what the future holds for the Gulf. I hope the oil never has to reach South Florida, or any more beaches for that matter. But I don’t have any control over it- that power lies in BP and the government to contain the spill and clean up the mess. Everyday citizens have been doing what they can to help since Day 1. Unfortunately, so much damage has already been done that it will take years to know the full extent. I just have to hope that future generations can appreciate the environment before they risk losing it.

~ Sarah

Additional Sources: CNN, NPR, Wikipedia