The Pulse: Look who became a soccer fan - my dad

Team USA's Abby Wambach (left) congratulating Alex Morgan after Morgan scored the first goal in Sunday's World Cup final in Germany. The U.S. team lost to Japan but won some new fans.
Team USA's Abby Wambach (left) congratulating Alex Morgan after Morgan scored the first goal in Sunday's World Cup final in Germany. The U.S. team lost to Japan but won some new fans. (MICHAEL SOHN / Associated Press)
Posted: July 22, 2011

Forget the outcome of Sunday's Women's World Cup final. And the reality that deciding an international tournament of unrivaled prestige with mere penalty kicks is totally inadequate.

What most mattered was that American soccer passed a milestone. I have proof.

My dad, Walt, is a self-described Depression-era baby. A retired educator, he lives a very active life in the suburbs of Philadelphia. He loves fly-fishing and spends a couple of months every winter in Sarasota, Fla.

For many years, my dad was a football referee. He officiated hundreds of high school and college games, and once even a professional preseason matchup. These days, he watches lots of NFL games and considers himself an Eagles fan. But to him, there's nothing better in the sports world than high school and college football.

He is not shy about his opinions. He also thinks the government spends too much money. And that our borders are too wide open. And that the country is changing rapidly in many ways he doesn't like. He complains that his 500 TV channels are often broadcasting content he'd never consider watching. ("What channel is Sgt. Bilko on?")

I'm betting most people know someone or have someone in the family (or are that family member) exactly like my dad.

Well, last Sunday, my 13-year-old son and I stopped at Dad's condo unannounced. I was sure he'd be watching the Phils. He answered the door and hastily told us we'd "arrived just in time."

Why? we wondered.

"The match has just 10 minutes left in regulation and it's tied," he told us.

"Did he just say match?" I wondered aloud.

Here was my dad, the former referee and college-pigskin junkie, spending a July Sunday afternoon watching the other kind of football. And not just any soccer. Women's soccer.

I thought back to all the times I had tried to pique his interest in the Premier League by mentioning teams like Manchester United and Chelsea, only to have him insist that he was indifferent.

I recalled his reaction when I told him about my family's experience watching the Charity Shield (now known as the Community Shield) match at Wembley Stadium in London a few years ago. Our boys were wearing Man U gear, but since our seats were in a Chelsea section, we weren't permitted to go inside until we got rid of the offending clothing.

How often had we discussed soccer's lack of popularity when I was growing up and its rise in participation today? How many times had we debated whether it would really ever take hold as a mainstream sport in the United States? How often had he told me it would never compare to football - especially high school and college football, the epitome of American sport?

But there he was, totally invested in the Women's World Cup final between Team USA and Japan. My son and I watched the U.S. women take their second lead before listening to the game's heartbreaking conclusion on satellite radio on the way home.

Sure, there are other indications that soccer is finally going mainstream in the States. Twitter reported that more tweets per second (7,196) had been sent during those critical final moments of the Women's World Cup finale than at any other point in the social-media giant's history. In terms of television ratings, ESPN's broadcast of the game outdrew Major League Baseball's All-Star Game. The men's World Cup last year was similarly considered a ratings triumph for the sports network.

But when it was all over, all I could think about was that for at least one day, soccer - women's soccer - had hooked my dad, the American football fanatic.


Contact Michael Smerconish

via www.smerconish.com.

Read his columns at www.philly.com/smerconish.

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