Soccer: A sport in need of elevation

  • Article by: ADAM KEPHART
  • Updated: July 11, 2014 - 6:29 PM

Why doesn’t soccer thrive in this country? Maybe we’re not demanding, like the Germans.

How did German cars, German machines and German athletes become synonymous with quality, precision and efficiency? Last week, as I watched the demolition of Brazil’s World Cup dream by Die Nationalelf (the National Eleven) with my roommates in Hamburg, I realized something about the mentality Germans have toward their teams competing at the highest levels.

They may not want to admit it, but this sort of result (7-1) is exactly what Germans have been expecting from their team the whole tournament. Germans are known for discipline and focus when it comes to international competition; behind those athletes is a nation whose citizens expect nothing less than perfection.

The news conferences following Germany’s scrappy 1-0 wins against the United States and France, and 2-1 vs. Algeria, illustrated this. At one, the first question posed to defender Per Mertesacker by a national public television reporter was: “What made Germany’s performance tonight so clumsy and fragile?”

Germany had just played 120 minutes against Algeria, coming out ahead in the end, but it was no cakewalk. An exhausted Mertesacker went off on the reporter for focusing on the style of play more than the result. He asked the reporter if he would prefer to see elegant play and a loss, or an uglier, grittier match that ends with Germany winning and moving on in the tournament.

Mertesacker’s comments went viral immediately after the interview, sparking a national debate among Germans about the expectations they have for their team in Brazil. What has been interesting for me, as a Minnesotan who has spent the last two years in the midst of this soccer-crazy country, have been the stark contrasts in attitude between my home and Deutschland.

Even in Minnesota, a state not known for its soccer culture, it would have been no surprise to see half of the people at work sporting at least some red, white and blue had the U.S. team made it to the quarterfinals or semifinals. In Hamburg, though, I was the only one in my office, on the subway, even on our sofa at home sporting Germany’s colors — “schwarz, rot, gold.”

It is not that Germans do not support their team. On the contrary, the World Cup is nearly the only occasion when the German flag can be seen away from the usual government buildings. Germany’s progress through the tournament was accompanied by cautious optimism. With each victory came more cars with flags flying and apartment windows proudly displaying the national colors. Germans support their team — but they also expect to win.

We Minnesotans are equally proud of our teams, but too often we are content when they reach the playoffs and then get steamrolled by New York or L.A. We rationalize the losses with our smaller budgets, lack of experienced players, bad luck. I am proud of what the Twins and Gophers have done in the past, but maybe there is a reason why (the Lynx excluded) we have not won a major title in years. Maybe culture is the problem.

I found the German public’s criticism of their national team in Brazil to be too much. The team won the “group of death” and has advanced to today’s final. That’s fantastic, right? Not for Germany. No matter how dominant they were in the semifinal, what will stick in everyone’s memory will be whether they come back with the trophy or not.

These expectations put enormous pressure on the athletes, but I am beginning to wonder if that might be the missing ingredient in Minnesota sports. Let’s not be satisfied with mediocrity. Instead, take Germany as an example and expect the best.


Adam Kephart, a Minnesota native, is a student in Hamburg, Germany.

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