usmnt.jpgThe least surprising thing about last night’s US v. Argentina match was the final score, a 4-1 pasting.

We sent Kasey Keller and a bunch of kids with little international experience. They had to open the Copa against an Argentinian squad that clearly aims to win this thing: Messi, Tevez, Crespo, Mascherano, Riquelme. I don’t know if we’ve ever produced a player as good as any one of those guys.

I can’t comment that much on the match because I saw all of about 30 seconds of it. The bar I was going to go watch it at had the incorrect start time listed on its Website. I went to dinner with friends hoping to get out in time to catch the second half, only to learn that by the time we sat down to eat, it was already halftime.

Really, writing about my dinner plans is probably less interesting than your reading about it. But I found out about the time snafu, that it was half, and that holy crap, we were tied at 1-1 because they had the game on at the restaurant. Kind of.

One of the waitstaff had set up a small TV pointing back into the bar area. It was turned to Telefutura or whatever entity had the Spanish language broadcast rights. And it was a crummy frame of fuzzy silhouettes running through a greenish snowstorm of static.

Our waiter kept ducking back to watch it. The waiter for the table next to us kept ducking back to watch it. I got up to check the score twice. When I did there were two other waiters watching with the rest of the bar staff.

Okay, so it was a Mexican restaurant. But this wasn’t Mexico playing. El Tri is not the Albiceleste. And the waiters, they were all, you know, white people. Yeah a lot of the kitchen workers looked like they came from someplace in the Americas but they weren’t the only people watching.

And they weren’t just watching. They were into it. I mean the lady at the table behind us had to resort to a rather bitchy and unpleasant, “Do you not understand, ‘Excuse me?'” after the first handful of times she said “Excuse me” went ignored by her waiter because he was more engaged in the game, which was probably still tied at that point.

She just sounded so bitchy, I felt bad for her husband.

In the big picture, this wasn’t that important of a match. Had we held the tie, or won, it might have become a huge match. Instead, it was just a bunch of inexperienced Americans getting a complete butt kicking after playing a totally respectable 60 minutes of soccer.

But it was on TV at a non-soccer-themed, non-sports-oriented establishment. And people were huddling around a barely visible picture to watch it. A couple of years ago this simply would not have happened.

By itself, it might not have been that big of a deal. But something else similar happened this week, something besides the US’s 2-1 victory over Mexico in the Gold Cup final.

Thierry Henry was transferred from Arsenal in the EPL to FC Barcelona in La Liga. Rumors of the move go back to last season when Barca beat the Gunners in the Champions League final. But late last week blogs were full of unconfirmed reports that the French striker was making the move, tout de suite.

Where did I first see it reported as official? The crawl on ESPN. This was on Monday afternoon. And I had been keeping an eye on most of the Arsenal blogs all day, looking for confirmation of the story. So this wasn’t just a random occurrence. The moment it happened, ESPN felt the need to report it. It was just a few seconds across the bottom of the screen; and I only saw it once, but there it was.

This was a guy who missed half of the season for a 4th place English team. Okay, his stature in international soccer is much greater than that scoreline intimates but since when have player transfers in European soccer been news here in the States at all? It’s even more impressive when you consider that the WWL doesn’t broadcast any European soccer outside of the Champions League, and that never gets off the duece. They are notorious for pimping their own products, and giving most everything else second rate status.

These are just two small data points. And I’m not going to make outrageous claims that soccer has finally arrived in the United States because six or seven waiters watched one match while at work and ESPN reported, you know, news.

I don’t think anyone needs to plant a flag and claim soccer’s legitimacy in the United States. Claims don’t matter near as much as attendance figures and TV ratings, both of which are still relatively modest for fútbol when compared to football, baseball, NASCAR, etc.

But those two events are not coincidences. And if you are paying attention, you might have noticed that some really smart billionaires have started snapping up EPL teams. Okay, it’s a stretch to call Tom Hicks smart but he sleeps on piles of money and he now owns Liverpool. If you are an American soccernista, none of these things is bad… unless, perhaps, you are supporter of the Reds.