Friday, May 28, 2010

Soccer in the U.S.

I was listening to pittsburgh sports radio yesterday on my way to go an interview some pittsburgh steelers players, which was sick, and they were talking about soccer, which of course perked my interest. More specifically, they were talking about why soccer isn't more popular in the U.S. Admittedly, the guys on the radio - especially this one - weren't huge soccer fans, and the callers seemed to be fighting a losing battle arguing for why soccer is important.

When one dj suggested that the U.S. was the outlier for not liking soccer, while the rest of the world found sports like baseball boring, the one especially ignorant dj responded with an infallible argument: "there are 2 indian guys in the minor leagues," he said, which obviously meant that the whole world did not think that baseball was boring.

But enough of non-soccer fans' opinions, let me try in a few paragraphs to understand why soccer has been unable to find a major foothold among U.S. sports fans. An important point raised on the radio was that it's not as if no one in the U.S. played soccer. The beautiful game is the most played sport among America's youth if my memory serves me right, so the question is, why doesn't this translate into Americans watching soccer?

The two reasons are inextricably linked. One, the local American league, the MLS, just isn't that good. The more I watch the MLS, the more I see a noticeable difference in the quality of goals in the MLS and in English and Spanish football. The level of play just isn't as high as in Europe, so true soccer fans would rather see the best players in other leagues.

This inherently creates another problem - no local teams for fans to root for. American sport fans are pretty diehard for their local tams - or whatever teams they root for. This is what a 13-year old guy in Liverpool has that American soccer fans don't have. Instead, many soccer-playing American sports fans will also root for their favorite football team or basketball team. I remember guys on how guys on my soccer teams would talk about the New York Giants and the Lakers just as much - if not more - than Manchester United or Arsenal, not to even speak of, say, D.C. United or the L.A. Galaxy.

This means that until the MLS can compete with the other leagues, soccer as a spectator sport will never compete with America's three pastimes (sp?): baseball, basketball, and football (and even hockey!). I read a good book by Grant Wahl on the Beckham Experiment - when David Beckham came play for the L.A. Galaxy - that deals with the topic.

Yes many Americans are excited for the World Cup - even perhaps some that don't follow league football all that much - but national team soccer isn't frequent enough to make true soccer fans out of most Americans. Once the MLS is on par with other leagues (if ever), then kids will grow up as fans of New England Revolution, as well as the Celtics and Red Sox.

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