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In the Crossfire

Going toe-to-toe on soccer

(CNN) -- In countries around the globe, people are glued to their television sets watching the World Cup. The soccer craze, however, has never seemed to take off in the United States.

Nevertheless, April Heinrichs, head coach of the U.S. women's soccer team, says the sport is on a roll. She kicks around questions from "Crossfire" hosts Robert Novak and Paul Begala.

NOVAK: We asked Americans how many World Cup matches will you watch. Let's put the results up on the screen. You can take a look at it.

  • As many as possible -- 5 percent.
  • None at all -- 72 percent.
  • Now I have to say that Paul and I are in that category, and the reason is, it's boring.

    HEINRICHS: It is?

    NOVAK: Yes, don't you think so?

    HEINRICHS: No, I'm fascinated by soccer. I think it's one of the most creative, flowing, artistic sports on the docket.

    NOVAK: Then why do I have trouble keeping awake when I'm watching?

    BEGALA: I will say this: When your women were on, even an anti-soccer guy like me tuned in.

    NOVAK: Only when she took her shirt off.

    BEGALA: Not just -- they were very good-looking women, but also they were terrific athletes, and it was an exciting game, but I got to tell you, these men, they're ... boring. Kids play, and I go and watch my kids play, and I can stay awake because they're my kids. But when I go and watch these ... men, why is it such a boring game?

    HEINRICHS: Well, going back to your experience with the women's national team, in '99 when our team won the World Cup, 40 million Americans tuned in, for a 13 rating on television. There's a lot of people out there paying attention to soccer.

    If you go back to the '94 World Cup, when we hosted it, 3.5 million tickets were sold. There are people paying attention, such as yourself -- you want to take your daughter maybe to a women's professional game. There's a team here in Washington called the Washington Freedom.

    NOVAK: I'll tell you what the problem is. My son, who is now in his 30s, he played soccer as a kid. He was on his junior high team, his high school team; he was captain of the junior varsity in high school. He never watches soccer! He a fanatic basketball fan; he watches baseball, football, but [soccer is] a boring game for Americans to watch. It's too slow for Americans.

    HEINRICHS: It takes an appreciation for it. It's a little bit like some of the higher-end arts. It is. You have to appreciate it. You have to learn to appreciate it.

    NOVAK: Why is it, coach, that kids like my son, they always said that 30 years from now when it started, these guys will be going to a soccer game -- you still have lousy attendance for soccer, and you know, we go out to the local team here in Washington. Mostly immigrants! None of the native born people go to that game.

    HEINRICHS: Well, again, looking back at our sport, our sport appeals to all sizes, all shapes, all ethnic backgrounds. The sport itself -- you don't have to be 6-foot-2 to achieve high-level success in soccer, and I think if you look at soccer and the way that it's played, whether it's in the men's game or the women's game, it's fascinating. We're moving a ball up and down. ...

    NOVAK: I've got a suggestion that would make the game a lot more interesting. Get rid of the goalie.

    BEGALA: I thought he was going to say arm them. Bob's answer to most things is just, "Pack heat."




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