Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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July 3, 2014

Lana Bellamy: Defending more than American soil: 07/04/14

ASHLAND — Defenders of the red-white-and-blue dedicate their lives to protecting the U.S., but not all wars are waged in combat. Some battlefields are long, green and are waged in front of millions of hopeful fans.

Tim Howard, goalie for the U.S. Men’s National Team, battled Belgian opponents with the rest of the U.S. Men’s National Team, to defend the goalposts and the hopes of a victory in a tournament America was deeply disadvantaged in.

His defensive efforts were not only noted sby occer historians when he had a record-breaking 16 saves in Tuesday’s game, but he also caught the attention of another high-up defensive player: the U.S. Department of Defense.

According to an article in the Washington Post, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called Howard to tank him for defending America while in Brazil this year for the World Cup.

Apparently, it was a joke that had spread around the Pentagon the day after the USMNT’s loss to Belgium. The article said the Wikipedia entry for Hagel was altered to show Howard as the secretary of defense, which quickly spread throughout the web.

The Pentagon released a statement shortly after Hagel called Howard that said, “He (Hagel) invited Howard and the entire team to the Pentagon later this year. He told Howard that with some training, he could someday become the real secretary of defense.”

Sure the gesture was all in good fun, but in a way, Howard really was defending more than goalposts. Other countries always touted American’s for their disinterest in the worldwide sporting phenomenon, but this year our fanbase for the USMNT rivaled support from big-name soccer countries.

There were reports of new Twitter records being broken by American fans during games. Live cams fed shots of thousands of American fans gathered in Chicago, California and other states. Rowdy fans in Brazil dressed in their most outrageous star-spangled gear.

Yes, Howard was defending the goalposts, but he was also defending the hopes of thousands of Americans, many falling in love with the game for the first time. And though the U.S. may have tragically lost in the last half of the game, he did more than enough to make us all proud!

Because of the sudden surge in the American soccer fanbase, FIFA, the World Cup’s governing body, is now considering the U.S. as a possible site for the 2022 games.

This information also comes from a recent Washington Post article that said the 2018 World Cup site bids have already been given to Russia, but the 2022 and 2026 bids are still up for grabs.

The 2022 games were previously committed to Qatar, but have faced terrible controversy in recent months.

According to the article, Qatar has been accused of bribery, several human rights complaints and FIFA has been accused of “ignoring its own terror alert” in the potentially dangerous country.

Not to mention, the average summer temperature is around 122 degrees Fahrenheit.

The U.S. hasn’t hosted the games since 1994. FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke was reported by the BBC as saying, “What we see in the United States is staggering. The audience is unprecedented, more than the NBA. The country has the largest level of youth soccer in the world, with 20 million young people playing.”

Maybe by the time 2022 rolls around (or 2026 if Qatar’s bid is not pulled), many of these young players will have worked their way up to the major leagues.

Either way, the future is bright for American soccer. We may not be playing in Saturday’s game against Argentina, but we can still patriotically celebrate the progress we have made in the sport.

LANA BELLAMY can be reached at lbellamy@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2653. For Twitter updates, follow @lanabellamy_DI.

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