Koman Coulibaly: We Salute You

by | June 21, 2010 at 4:52 PM | General, Soccer, Sports

Koman Coulibaly.

If you don’t know the name, you know the crime.

Coulibaly is the World Cup referee from Mali who disallowed a winning U.S. goal against Slovenia for no apparent reason. Oh, I’m sure Coulibaly had a reason. He’s just unwilling to talk about it and no one else on the planet can figure out what he was thinking.

The phantom call cost Coulibaly his World Cup refereeing privileges, set Team USA back two points in group play and instantly turned the match against Algeria on Wednesday into a virtual must-win.

And you know what soccer fans? You should be thanking him.

That’s right. The World Cup referee that singlehandedly put the U.S. on the verge of elimination deserves our thanks.

Why?

Because Coulibaly did something that Brian McBride, Alexi Lalas and Landon Donovan failed repeatedly to do:

He got Americans talking about soccer.

Wherever you went this weekend, people – American people – were abuzz about theother football. Yes, most of the discussion focused on the absurdity of the World Cup rule that does not require the referee to explain his call, but so what?

As they say in show business: Any publicity is good publicity.

And there’s no better evidence of that than Koman Coulibaly’s gaffe. The world will be watching when the Americans take on Algeria. That is a given. But amazingly, after Coulibaly got this country’s attention, America will be watching.

If not for the hype caused by this scandal, that wouldn’t be the case.

The referee controversy that has swirled around the World Cup has angered the diehards, but it has also piqued the curiosity of the average American sports fan. Suddenly, the sport no one cared about has been splashed all over every U.S. newspaper’s front page. People are going to want to know what all the fuss is about. And that means people will be tuning into see our side play Algeria, despite the early start (10 am ET).

Landon Donovan gets it.

“I think we’ve all been pretty well informed as to response back home via text, e-mail, phone calls, Facebook etc., Internet,” Donovan told the press Monday. “In some ways, it’s really heartening to see how much people care. And the one thing we do know is that Wednesday night, or Wednesday morning in the States, is going to a be a really big occasion and we relish that because we don’t get that very often. We know people are talking about it and people care.”

Americans are talking about it. Americans care. And isn’t that what we soccer fans have been pining for? Haven’t the select few of us futbol fans in the States been begging the rest of America to get on board for decades? Haven’t we been waiting for this country of ours to finally take notice of The Beautiful Game?

This is a huge moment for soccer. There is nothing America loves more than an underdog story. Think Miracle on Ice. Think Rocky Balboa. Think The Little Giants.

If the U.S. can build upon that inspired second half against Slovenia (likely), if they can get a result versus Algeria (probable) and if they can make a run as an underdog in the knockout round (possible), I guarantee Americans will jump on the bandwagon.

Yes, that’s a lot of “ifs.”

Still, all soccer fans can ask for is an opportunity. And there’s no denying that the opportunity is here. An intermediately talented but expertly hearted U.S. side has a shot at making history. If the Yanks can drum out a few wins here, they’ll bring millions of new soccer fans on the ride with them. If they blow it against Algeria, soccer will again take a backseat.

The U.S. men’s national team has the fate of the sport’s national success resting on its feet for the first time in over a half-century.

And for that opportunity they have one man to thank:

Koman Coulibaly.

 

Email me at russakoffrules@comcast.net; follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/leerussakoff.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.