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You donít need to love soccer to like U.S.-Iran.

By Mike Lopresti
Gannett News Service

(Thursday, June 18, 1998) -- Perhaps you are not yet fully inflamed in World Cup fever.

Conceivably you are unaware that pesky Morocco is 0-1-1 as is plucky Cameroon.

It is possible you were confused the other night when you thought you were watching a war movie on television. That wasn't Guadalcanal, that was the British fans outside the stadium in Marseille.

Maybe you are eternally unmoved by soccer's idea of offense. A rule of thumb to remember: Latin singular nouns almost always end with the letter a, and World Cup scores almost always end with the number 0.

Perhaps you have failed to notice that this World Cup has become the Olympic Games of ticket scamming. Among the fish of the con men have been several thousand Japanese, who paid their yen and showed up in France. Tickets? What tickets?

But here comes a day for all soccer non-worshipers to pull up a chair. Here comes Iran vs. the United States on Sunday. You can't thicken a plot better than that. How many other sporting contests can you name where the ramifications are clear to everyone from a bar stool in Mobile to the United Nations Security Council?

Tehran, I imagine, is hot to trot. Like Ann Arbor the night before the Ohio State game. It's not every day they get a chance to kick a little Great Satan fanny. Though some signs may have to be altered.

"Death to America (Or at least no shots on goal)."

The American players have generally tried to overlook and dismiss the political baggage of this little scrap. And that's fine. They've got a full plate, anyway, trying to convince world soccer they're still not the equivalent of the Pacific Coast League. Times being what they are, a win would be nice, Iran or India or Ireland.

But there is fact of marketing life the Olympics taught us during the Cold War: You want good television ratings, do a flip on the balance beam. You want better ratings, do it to beat an East German.

We don't have the Iron Curtain around anymore to lose to in the women's butterfly and javelin. So the United States has to take its bad blood matches where it finds them.

Iran. That's not bad. My guess is the Nielsens will get a bump. Couch inhabitants who wouldn't know a header from a hook shot might pause with clicker in hand to take a look. Sometimes the opponent means more than the sport.

I do not purport to be an expert at this World Cup business. Brazil, I know, is good, with this guy Ronaldo who is the Michael Jordan of soccer.

I don't even want to know, by the way, who the Dennis Rodman of soccer is. And can't you generally make the assumption that any soccer team from Europe has to be decent, just like any basketball team from the ACC?

But despite knowing so little, this I think I can still guess one thing: Losing to Iran would be awfully embarrassing. One, it would sink any U.S. chance to advance out of its group pool. And two, it's Iran. They would be dancing in the streets of Mashhad for hours.

Politics and sport rarely make comfortable teammates, but like it or not, this is a juicy little drama, to be noticed by the general non-soccer public just curious to see what will happen.

So it's crunch time for the Yanks. All things considered, it wouldn't be especially comfortable, public relations-wise, to be on the American team that loses to Iran. But I can think of one thing worse: To be on the Iranian team that loses to the United States.

The best advice to the losers if that happens? Summer in Antarctica.

Mike Lopresti is a staff writer for Gannett News Service.

Articles and opinions expressed by other columnists are not necessarily the opinion of SoccerTimes.