“What? No We’re Not,” Say Blindly Obsessed Americans

New York, N.Y. ( – As World Cup fever grips the globe, nowhere is the mania for Earth’s greatest sporting event stronger than in the United States, where 280 million soccer-mad Americans are on the emotional edge, unable to think or talk about anything else. As one zealous U.S. supporter explained: “World Cup… World Cup, that’s… racing?”

A nervous fan watches a U.S. World Cup game
As they did during France ’98 (above), most Americans will paint themselves in team colors and stay riveted to their TV sets during the 2002 World Cup.

Yes, the insanity is almost palpable.

As happens every four years, the United States will all but close down during the tournament in a ritual obsession as indigenous to America as the camels that graze on the slopes of the Rocky Mountains, and one little understood in other nations.

“On Wednesday at 5 o’clock in the morning, I’ll probably be sleeping, why?” exclaimed New Yorker Paul Sanders of his plans for the June 5 U.S. opener against Portugal, which will be televised live from Seoul, South Korea at 5 p.m. EST.

Compare that to the more laid-back approach to the sport elsewhere. “If I miss even the first minute, I will cut off my head in despair,” said one Argentinean.

With national pride riding on the outcome, U.S. players are under incredible pressure to win the Cup. Certainly defender Jeff Agoos doesn’t want to repeat the assaults he endured after the Americans’ poor showing in France ’98.

“We got off the plane from Paris and this guy comes up and asks for directions to the men’s room. I guess he thought I worked there or something,” recalled Agoos. “Then I think I went to baggage claim.”

Though veterans like Agoos remain, many new faces have joined this year’s team, and arguments over which of them should see playing time dominate kitchen table conversations. For most of the last few months, the all-consuming question on Americans’ minds: will coach Bruce Arena choose to start Kasey Keller or Brad Friedel at keeper?

As Josh Carpenter, a Chicago electrician, said when asked if the Friedel-Keller decision would be second-guessed for years to come: “Keeper? Like Sutherland?”

But perhaps no development has so consumed the nation as the torn knee ligament suffered by defensive midfielder Chris Armas in a recent game against Uruguay. The day after it happened, newspapers splattered the story across their front pages, with angst-driven headlines such as “Rain Expected Across Midwest,” and “Lost Girl, 15, Found in Truck Stop.”

For all the concern over the starting 11, however, most Americans will soon focus on the competition in Group D. And there, one country, and one player, stand out: Portugal and its star Luis Figo, the reigning football World Player of the Year.

“No way. They play football in Portugal?” said Milwaukee resident Kevin Williams, displaying grudging respect for Figo. “Well, they wouldn’t stand a chance against the Green Bay Packers, I’ll tell you that right now.”

Win, lose, or draw, there’s no question the United States is engrossed in the World Cup. But the level of preoccupation has surprised even long-time observers. The most telling signs: the country’s largest corporations, resigned to millions of “no-shows,” have already decided to give employees the month off…

“No we haven’t,” said General Motors spokesman Dean Pagette.

… and even the U.S. Congress will shut down for the Final on June 30.

“Thank you for calling the United States Senate legislative schedule hotline. Please note the Senate will be closed June 30 in order to have the floors cleaned.”

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