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6/11/2010
What Does the Rest of the World Know about Soccer that Americans Don’t?
CATEGORY: PJ Media

My latest article is up at PJ Media and in it, I address a question that I’ve looked at before; why aren’t Americans interested in soccer?

A sample:

But leaving politics aside, the reason that soccer has not arrived (and may never rise) to the first tier of professional sports in America is tradition and timing. There is no American soccer “tradition” as there is in baseball and football. Even basketball enjoys a tradition far beyond any national memories we have of American soccer.

Couple that with the fact that the sports calendar is crowded enough as it is, and the addition of another sport is just not practical. The MLS has adapted to the marketplace, largely abandoning the huge football stadiums and settling in smaller, more intimate venues like the Chicago Fire’s Toyota Park in Bridgeport, Illinois, that seats 20,000, or the 27,000-seat Home Depot Center in Carson, California, that hosts Los Angeles Galaxy games. While not exactly thriving, the league is mostly keeping its head above water and now serves as a legitimate feeder league for national team talent.

Salaries are not extravagant. Most importantly, several teams have deals with some of the club teams in Europe where they can “loan” their players out. This has led to some key national team members like Landon Donovan getting invaluable experience playing against the top players in the world.

That experience may be the key to the hopes of this year’s national squad. Where in 1994, only two or three national team members had experience in Europe, the 2010 edition of Team USA features several bona fide international standouts. Most of the others perform as serviceable pros in some of the top leagues in Europe.

Reading the comments, I am struck by the political tack most commenters take in opposition to the game. I find most political arguments against the game horsecrap - ignorant people trying to sound intelligent. It’s a monumental stretch to ascribe most American’s difficulty with the game to some ridiculous notion that soccer is a “collectivist” game played by namby-pamby Europeans.

This is posited by idiots who’ve never seen the English Premier League. Those guys don’t wear 20 pounds of pads but the collisions in the air and on the field are pretty violent. Also, try getting kicked in the shin by a soccer boot. Even with shin guards it hurts like a sonofabitch.

They are tough as nails, talented athletes with tremendous skills. And as far as the game being “collectivist,” that’s nonsense. American football is a truly collectivist game, modeled after one of the most collectivist activities man undertakes; war.

My own belief is that it takes a familiarity with the game, an understanding of its nuances, its ebb and flow, in order to appreciate it. There is a method to what appears to be the meanderings of players on the field and once you understand the complexities of the offensive buildup, the counterattack, the D-backs overlapping, the midfield attack, and the beautiful dance that defenses must employ to blunt the other team’s offense, the game can be enjoyed as any team sport.

Since there is no soccer tradition in America, there is no passing down this kind of knowledge as there is in baseball or football. Watch one of those games with a 5 or 6 year old kid and the questions never stop. Some are cutesy queries, but most are geared toward understanding the nuances of the game. Imparting that knowledge from generation to generation is how those sports maintain their huge fan base. If you want to be a soccer fan. you pretty much have to figure it out on your own.

It helps that I’ve been watching the game for almost 50 years. And it helps that I began to really appreciate the game in the 1980’s when I lived in Washington and the local pro team, the Washington Diplomats, purchased the services of an aging, but still hugely talented player named Johan Cruyff.

Cruyff is considered one of the true legends of the game and while he was clearly past his prime, what he could do with a ball on his foot was absolutely magical. An attacking forward with an uncanny ability to put the ball in the net, Cruyff introduced me to some of the subtleties of game and for much of the last 30 years, I have built on that knowledge to where I can now watch the game and revel in its ins and outs - even if the result is a scoreless tie.

Because of this lack of tradition, soccer will not be a major sport in America for the foreseeable future. Will the kids who played the game in their youth pass their love of the game on to their own children? If they do, it may take a few generations but eventually, soccer may indeed take its place as a favored sport of Americans.

By: Rick Moran at 9:15 am

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