Oh how soccer times have changed in the U.S. One could just imagine a drunk Vince Vaughn at a late-night diner, flailing his hips wildly and screaming, “Our little baby is all growns up!” Because one of the biggest scandals the sport has ever known (and that’s saying something) has been brought to light because that little kid from down the block finally did some adult (bleep).
A whole gaggle of FIFA power brokers have been indicted on corruption charges, and the foundation of the sports governing body has rocked under the weight. The great irony here is that it was the United States, forever a soccer also-ran, which did the heavy lifting. England, France, Italy, Germany and other foundational soccer super powers have moaned, groaned and panted over FIFA’s greed and graft for decades. Fans and media in South American power pots like Brazil and Argentina have also watched the backchannel, street corner payouts happen like a scene out of Donnie Brasco.
The international soccer (sorry, futbol) powers have patted us on the head for years, then kicked our butts in the World Cup and snickered at our claims that we would eventually catch up to them. So how did the responsibility of taking down FIFA fall to us? For some across the globe, this is like Turkey bringing down David Stern and the NBA for rigging the lotteries.
It happened because the U.S. now has some soccer might. We finally deserve a seat at the adults’ table to make big global decisions, and then got screwed in the World Cup bidding. Soccer cynics in this country still don’t want to admit it, but the sport is legitimately here. Sure, we’ve all heard these predictions since the youth soccer boom of the ’70s. But the evidence is undeniable now. Our kids are buying soccer merchandise (Messi jerseys, video games) more than ever. American ratings for international soccer (like Champions League and the Premier League) are higher than ever. Our domestic league (MLS) is healthier and wealthier than ever. And most importantly, we’re better at the sport than ever.
The U.S. run in last summer’s World Cup proved that we finally have an old guard of past heroes people identify with (Landon Donovan, Tim Howard), and an X-men new class (Michael Bradley, DeAndre Yedlin, Julian Green) who can push us into the elimination stage of the tourney – where the big boys reign – every four years. We also have some of the greatest soccer stadiums for their size in the world (Sporting Park, Red Bull Arena), and are building an amazing infrastructure of national team training facilities. The fact is, soccer is now big business in the U.S., and when that happens all bets are off. When America’s capitalist ethos kicks into high gear, we usually surge ahead. Nobody takes advantage of making money quite like us.
So when FIFA awarded Russia and Qatar the next World Cups, even though the U.S. bid was far more efficient, realistic, and achievable, the table had been set. The World Cup meant money – and lots of it – to the U.S. It meant another enormous national push for the sport to take a step up the global ladder. Losing it meant millions (billions?) of American corporate money just got flushed down the toilet. And that meant we would now get involved. So the FBI starts poking around, and it didn’t take long to find what they needed. And because we no longer needed to play Mr. Gladhand with FIFA, the gloves were off. We became the Dark Knight. Screw the Gotham police, this was about vigilante justice.
It comes down to money, it always does. This isn’t the U.S. doing the world a favor out of charity or ethics. This was a business deal gone bad. But because we are now a soccer nation to be reckoned with, it finally mattered. We now have a seat at the big boys table. And now we’re swinging our hips on the table at Sepp Blatter and the rest of his cronies. Can you believe it was us that finally got ya?
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.