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Ben Smith

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Associated Press
U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard became a star overnight after coming up with 16 saves in Tuesday’s match, single-handedly keeping the Americans alive against Belgium.
World CUp

Run by US adds to sport’s popularity

– Moral decay. Pffft.

I got your moral decay right here, Ann Coulter.

It's in Seattle and Dallas and New York and Chicago, where they had to move the party to Soldier Field because it got too big. It's on both coasts and both borders and every red state in flyover America. It's in Fort Wayne, where they chanted (“We believe that we will win!”) and cheered for the hometown hero (“Beas!”) and turned the wearin' of the red, white and blue into its own national pastime in crowded bars and beneath a blue sky in Parkview Field.

Heck. It's even on Wikipedia, where, full to the top with stubborn pride even in defeat, some Internet cowboy committed a happy act of vandalism on Wikipedia.

Beneath the entry for “Secretary of Defense of the United States,” he, or she, added “Tim Howard.”

Because, listen, the man was a national icon, suddenly, which is what will happen when you make 16 saves and give the World Cup a goalkeeping symphony for the ages. The U.S. might have gone down and out of the tournament on a 2-1 defeat to Belgium, but everyone in America knows who Tim Howard is now.

No one could have seen that coming a decade or even four years ago. And it was probably killing poor Coulter, the sour harpy who wrote a week or so ago that America's newfound love for soccer betrayed something dark in the national soul – because, you know, soccer was fundamentally un-American, what with not being able to use your hands and all.

It's a testament to what the game has become in this country that she came off sounding even more alien and incoherent than usual. She might as well have been writing in Klingon for all the sense she made, even supposing she were merely half-serious.

Which is not to say the game has finally won us over, mind you.

We have, after all, said that before, and we've been wrong. You can go back to the 1970s, to the days of Pelé, Beckenbauer and the Cosmos playing to sellout crowds, and hear that refrain. And then the Cosmos left and the bubble burst and we went back to watching the NFL, and occasionally baseball.

No one should be shocked if that happens again. As even American soccer officials acknowledge, all those crowds and the skyrocketing TV ratings were as much a product of these-are-our-boys as anything else. As with the Olympics, we'll pay attention every four years, and then we won't.

And yet that's a quantum leap over not even paying attention every four years. And it's completely unfathomable to those who grew up in an America where the soccer-viewing options were all but nonexistent.

“As a kid who loved the sport and couldn't find anything on TV, we have come a long way,” Howard acknowledged Wednesday on “CBS This Morning.”

That would be “Howard,” as in “Tim Howard,” Ann Coulter.

If you still don't know who that is, I suggest you look him up.

Try Wikipedia.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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