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The Inside Track | COMMENTARY

Say 'Sayonara' to Soccer's Fever Pitch


Our first question today comes from a B. Arena, who writes, "'What happened to the World Cup? I look through the paper, and I can't find it anywhere. It's 'Honey, I Shrunk the Coverage!' I thought soccer fever was sweeping America. How could it end so soon?"

The fever broke when Germany took an insurmountable lead of 1-0 against the United States, and went on to win, 1-0. Immediately thereafter, cries of "Check, please!" were heard all over America and tens of millions of people went back to the real world, leaving the soccer poets to roam the pitch alone.

Haven't we been through enough of these "Guess What's Sweeping America This Week?" type of big events (women's World Cup soccer, the Tour de France when Lance Armstrong and Greg LeMond won, the Winter Olympics short-track speedskating with Apolo Anton Ohno) to recognize the trampoline effect?

The bounce is short-lived. The interest in World Cup was localized . It was interest in the U.S. team. When it was eliminated, the bus emptied.

Oh please, like you really gave a rat's patootie if South Korea beat Turkey. You want to know why nobody cares after the U.S. is out? Here's why: Germany-U.S.; Germany-South Korea; Turkey-Senegal; Brazil-Turkey. Each game ended 1-0. It's water torture.

And don't you dare say that anyone who doesn't kneel at the altar of soccer is prejudiced against international sports and foreign athletes. We've got lots of foreign athletes playing an international sport right here. It's called the NBA. Three of the NBA's first seven draft choices, five of the top 16 and 14 of the 58 overall picks were foreign athletes.

The Denver Nuggets chose Nikoloz Tskitishvili with the fifth pick of the draft and traded for Nene Hilario. They then selected a U.N. interpreter in the second round. Trying saying "Tskitishvili" three times fast. Try saying it once. Try sewing it on a Nuggets jersey.

Our next question is from G. Williams, who asks, "What do you think of where the Maryland kids landed in the NBA draft?"

Lonny Baxter did fine going to Chicago, where Bill Cartwright ought to appreciate his work ethic and willingness to compete. Chicago has assembled a nice group of young players. Chris Wilcox going to the Clippers is harder to figure. The Clippers' best player is Elton Brand, a power forward. Why draft power forward Wilcox and power forward Melvin Ely? (Is one of them trade bait already?) What's Elgin Baylor trying to do, get a monopoly of power forwards and then start building hotels on them?

Juan Dixon going to the Wizards is a feel-good story. But is it the best place for Dixon? Doug Collins talked of Dixon having "a Michael Jordan-like heart." Dixon's personal history is a road map of triumph over tragedy. Everybody in town is pulling for him to have a great NBA career.

The only worry is that this is home. Sometimes it's harder for the hometown kid-- it was for Bobby Bonilla and Stephon Marbury in New York, to name two. Sometimes the pressure to please everybody weighs you down. Dixon has been a star here for so long, it might be hard for his friends and fans to accept him in a lesser role, even for a while. Let's hope they all have patience, and the tears of joy Dixon shed when he heard his name called by the home team won't ever turn bitter.

Our next question comes from M. Lemieux, who asks, "What do you make of those quotes from Jaromir Jagr, saying he didn't have any warning that Ron Wilson had been fired, and he had no input into the hiring of Bruce Cassidy?"

It's odd. For the big money the Capitals are paying Jagr--and for the heat Jagr had to take when the Caps didn't make the playoffs--it certainly seems like management should be taking Jagr's temperature on any coaching changes. Can the Caps truly afford to take the chance that Jagr and Cassidy won't hit it off?

It was clear from the quotes that Jagr would have preferred his former Penguins teammate, Bryan Trottier. But Trottier was recently hired by the Rangers, and Jagr said he didn't pass Trottier's name on to anyone in the Capitals' food chain.

"I'm not the guy to tell people what to do," Jagr said. "They've got the responsibility, and it's their decision."

Yes, but maybe for the money Jagr ought to be the guy to tell people what to do. Maybe he ought to try to make this his team, like Mark Messier did with the Rangers.

Our next question comes from K. Caminiti, who writes, "Get off my back. I didn't mean to say that 50 percent of baseball players took steroids. I meant to say that I tried them once. I got them from John McEnroe."

Now comes the accusation from McEnroe's former wife, Tatum O'Neal, that the temperamental Mr. McEnroe took steroids in 1987. (Oh, like she's Madame Curie.) Maybe he did, and maybe, as Martina Navratilova suggested, "They must have been placebos."

Does anybody remember McEnroe looking anything but skinny? He never had a single muscle in his entire body--except his mouth. Maybe he took steroids to build up his vocal chords so he could scream at people.

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