The Case Against Soccer



Can you feel it? The thundering herd and groundswell of media hype has already started.  No, it’s not the MLB playoffs or the start of the NBA season, it’s the media looking around and crowning soccer as the “next big thing in the US”.

Soccer has become vogue yet again.

It could just be the dead sports zone of late summer that made me notice but with the World Cup coming up next year the coverage is only beginning. Bill Simmons has sure drank the soccer kool-aid.

In a recent article the Sports Fella stated:

…the stars seem to be aligning for soccer in the United States. Subtle factors have made soccer a potential breakout sport for the next decade: high definition; few commercial breaks; games that almost always end within two hours; improved camera angles; increased exposure to international play; a generation of adults weaned on the 1994 World Cup; even the near-death of passing in basketball, which led people like me to gravitate toward soccer simply because I miss seeing telepathic connections between teammates and will take it any way I can get it. I don’t think I’m alone.

Sporting emotions at the highest pitch, 2009

Sound a little familiar? For fun I went back and looked at some other “soccer is the future” propaganda:

“I am looking forward to a tremendous surge in the popularity of soccer in this country…Soccer must be  lifted to the status of a major sport in this country.”
Peacetime Soccer Boom Is Expected, St. Petersburgh Times, 1945

Ok, our first discovery is that they were pimping soccer back when Hitler was recently seen roaming through Europe.

“…In the next 10 years I think we will be right where the game of football is today.  I don’t expect it to be any longer than tat and it could come quicker.  We are on the brink of great things”
Selling The Sport Is The Name Of The Game, 1974

Flower power and soccer.  I see how that could go together. Peace and love and all that.  Everyone realized this revolution wasn’t happening by the 80’s though right? Wrong.

One more time with feeling…

“The 1982 World Cup re-ignited American interest in soccer, at least in the way soccer is meant to be played: with style, with flair, with passion.”
Imagine: The World’s soccer stars in one place, 1982

Starting to sound repetitive?  Whether its High Definition, rising youth participation, a recent World Cup, or troops coming home from WW2, there are a million reasons why soccer hysteria should have overtaken America by now.

News flash: it hasn’t yet and never will.

What people are looking for is the next big sport to hit it big in the United States and what they fail to realize is that soccer is uniquely international.  The game has its place on the world stage and for all the moneymaking potential it could have in America, it will remain just that: international. The beautiful game does have a place in America but I apologize if I’m tired of waiting on a sport that has been declared the next big thing since our grandparents were fighting their way up Omaha beach.

International soccer is captivating and the passion on display is the most intense in the world but for something to be American it has to work on American soil.  You’ve heard the phrase “square peg, round hole“. Well, square peg meet a red meat-eating, bbq-ing, touchdown dancing, home run swatting, round hole that is the American sports appetite. This just isn’t going to work and hasn’t since the 1930’s.

I’ve had the unique opportunity to  live in northern Italy and experience international soccer matches on the highest level.  I loved every second of it and I’ve never been a soccer fan in my entire life.  I even played in a few impromptu futbol matches where I showed off my terrible ball dribbling skills. More importantly, I was absorbed into the European culture that goes hand in hand with soccer fervor.

Lets take a look at a few European experiences I find relevant to this discussion:

•  It’s a place where people take 3 hours siestas in the middle of the day.

• When your ticket says“The train will arrive at 11:30” means it might come 15 minutes early  or 30 minutes late or maybe not at all if the conductors decide to go on strike that day. People put up with this.

• The beautiful game values style, tempo, and flow.  The musical comparison would be jazz or long wacky techno songs.  Europeans love these nearly as much as they love fau-mullets and chain smoking.

For better or worse the American sports palate doesn’t cater to these things.  We can handle the laissez faire tempo that soccer sometimes has (see a group of outfielders casually standing around a baseball field grabbing their crotch and spitting seeds for one example) but we DEMAND that our sports highlight the few moments where one large object collides with another at ridiculous speeds.

While soccer games commonly have players exaggerating injuries to make sure the referee is paying attention, we make legends out of Willis Reed limping out onto the floor at Madison Square Garden, Ronnie Lott getting his pinkie finger cut off so he could continue playing for the Raiders, or MJ and his “flu game”.  And it’s a wonder that some aspects of soccer are having trouble jumping the pond to America?

This is the home of rock and roll and where AC/DC will be singing Thunderstruck over stadium loudspeakers all the way until they reach the nursing home.

Think of the NASCAR fans hooting after a big collision, or the crack of the bat as Prince Fielder crushes a 93mph fastball into the cheap seats, or Adrian Peterson trucking a cornerback on a toss around the outside.  Lacrosse fits the needs of the American sports fan better than soccer because it includes “scrums” where burly defensemen steamroll players on their way to a ground ball or guys like Paul Rabil “ripping the duck” on 111 mph corner rippers from 12 yards out.

Soccer and international culture are very different from what we are used to in the states so it makes sense we’re not embracing the world’s game.  American sports fans value different things than soccer fans.  Lets make something very clear to soccer fanatics and the rest of the world: This is not a bad thing! We can still appreciate you.

It’s ok that America isn’t a soccer power.  We don’t need to be.  It’s much more fun to appreciate it for what it is: the world’s game. Not ours.

I don’t think I need to run through the same laundry list as to why the modern game of lacrosse fits the American sports fan much better than soccer.  The speed, power, and athleticism have increased exponentially with the advances in equipment.  The next step involves convincing the media to cover lacrosse with the same “up and coming” attitude they’ve been throwing on soccer since the Great Depression.


  1. Right on. Soccer at the highest level is worth watching, but lacrosse is more exciting. I don't see soccer making it big in the US, but it is still an uphill battle for lacrosse. It takes sometime to learn how to follow a lacrosse game (small ball, large field, very fast action). The sport is expanding rapidly at the high school level and that may carry it to a larger audience. The ESPN coverage in HD is a great way to watch lacrosse.

  2. Hit the nail on the head. Perhaps we're trying to channel our inner pioneer, but us Americans love watching stuff that could at any second produce great bodily injury. I was in France during the '06 World Cup and really got into it, but back in the States it just didn't seem to stick. I will be rooting for the U.S. during the World Cup in South Africa though, only because I like to consider myself a red blooded American and want to see the USA win always.

  3. I totally agree that soccer is meant for the international stage and will never truly be called an “American” sport. But do we really value physical contact and collision sports more than the rest of the world? Sure, football is as physical as it gets and its purely American, but thats just one sport. The NBA is about as physical as a conservative game of chess these days since refs are blowing their whistles like Wigand exposed Big Tobacco. And if you look past the HGH-injecting “professionals” of MLB, you can clearly see that its just cricket on steriods, literally. What about Canadian ice hockey, where guys routinely exchange right-hooks during games, and all we got is the bash brothers from MD2? And if Americans love the dirt, sweat, and grind, where's the love for rugby?- Take a trip down south to New Zealand or South Africa and you'll see a real collision sport. And if we're talking about physically-grueling sports, what about wrestling or boxing? I'm not even going to try to pronounce the name of the current world heavyweight boxing champion, and four of the last five have been Eastern-Europeans (the other one is from Nigeria).

    Football and lacrosse will never become an “international” sport because, lets face it, you can't find shoulder pads, lacrosse sticks, or even a level field to play on in most countries. Soccer, on the other hand, is and will forever be an international sport because all it takes is a spherical ball, two feet, and a desire to compete. No single country can lay claim to that.

    • I have never lived in Europe, but I have attended international soccer matches over there, so I've seen the sport played at the highest levels and experienced European futbol passion first-hand. I get it. What I don't get is the insistence that soccer is the next big thing here. I agree completely with this post. Every little kid in American is playing youth soccer now and that has been the case long enough for a generation to grow up with it. Yet the sport continues to depend on a largely international fan base. You can point to the lack of scoring opportunities in a typical game. You can point to the whining and fake injuries. You can point to the use annoying ESPN announcer use of international terms (pitch, nil, side, etc.) when there are perfectly acceptable simple terms to use (field, zero, team, etc.). You can point to any number of reasons it hasn't become a truly major sport in the US, and you would probably be partly right. To put it simply, it just doesn't feel right here.

      Is lacrosse the next big thing? Unfortunately, I don't think so. While it certainly has all of the characteristics that Americans typically look for in their sports, it has too much to overcome. Although it is the oldest sport in America, to mainstream America it is something new. Although it is technically the most AMERICAN sport there is, to mainstream America it is something foreign. (Literally – I overheard frustrated recreational softball players a couple of years ago yelling “play an American sport!” at summer league lacrosse players who had taken over their outfield.) Although it is growing like wildfire, it is still much more of a niche sport than most of us who love it want to admit.

      There isn't much room in America for another major sport. Nascar has found a way to join the big boys, but can the American public accept something more? There is certainly a major effort going on to position soccer. I like soccer. I appreciate it. But I'm wary of it. The lacrosse world needs to be tenacious and patient at the same time. Every opportunity to promote our sport to a larger audience needs to be taken, and more need to be created. At the same time, we need to understand and accept that the lacrosse world we envision isn't going to happen overnight.

      • Just a great comment and thanks for adding your POV. Being blinded by my love of lax might make me biased but even if lacrosse isnt the next “big thing” I think eventually something new could rise up.

        As a rabid football fan as well I'm scared to admit that Malcolm Gladwell's recent article on concussions made me think that there could be a day when football is banned in its current form (maybe 30-50 years but still). Maybe then there will be an opening for a new sport? I'm not 100% convinced but its interesting to think about.

        Link to the article in case anyone hasnt seen it:

      • I think the problem is that both lacrosse and soccer suffer from negative stereotypes from mainstream America. Soccer is a “pussy European sport”, likely because of the diving (which is actually strategic in many cases). I enjoy watching the EPL, and while I don't like the diving, who hasn't seen a receiver dive a little to sell a pass interference or Lebron sell a foul in the lane. Soccer players are some of the best athletes in the world, and there is plenty of physical contact. Lacrosse is branded as the “preppy, rich-kid sport” by many Americans. It may be true that many rich-kids play lacrosse, they also play many other sports because they can afford it. If you look at New York State, high schools from all levels of income play lacrosse. Syracuse won the title with kids from Watertown, Tully, Homer, and an Indian reservation, hardly preppy towns. The problem is, both sports get branded and it is hard to shake the stereotype. I personally don't mind lacrosse being a little out of the mainstream, it makes it a more tight-knit community, and a little more badass to be a player. I would like to see games televised, but it doesn't need to get to college football-level popularity (which it won't). One thing I've also always wondered is why hockey, which is far more expensive than lacrosse, doesn't get a negative rep as a rich-kid sport.

  4. I agree that soccer will never rise to prominence relative to the MLB, NFL, or NBA, but I do believe that soccer is booming anew in this country. I appreciate your research into previous hyped up articles across generations, and I too laugh at how dumb they are. The MLS will forever be a third tier league globally, although most agree that it has ascended to prominence comparable to the Dutch, which should keep the niche happy.

    Your article is ignoring the number of Americans who follow the world's elite leagues religiously. Millions wake up at 7 AM on Saturdays to tune into the Premier League, or skip class on the odd Tuesday to watch Champions League. A large chunk of people tune in, way the hell more than the arcane NHL, and this is all because of digital cable.

    I believe that soccer is going to be a big TV revenue that will be extremely relevant in the near future. This has never been the case before, so don't write the game off entirely.

    • I'm right there with you on the Champions league. Theres' a bar near my place thats always packed with fans watching the latest games (always at odd hours too because of the time change).

      I can completely agree with the rising ad revenue around international soccer too. It's going up with ESPN now broadcasting Premier League games.

      But I stick to my original point: shouldn't the next big sport actually be played at the highest level in America?

  5. Great post Crave. Sports in US are a lot like the Wireless industry. Everyone has a cellphone (plays a sport), and 2/3 of the country are on the same big 3 carriers. No matter how innovative, fresh and new a wireless company (sport) may be, in order to be popular you have to STEAL subscribers from the other, well established, well funded, money making companies. Make sense? Tough to do.

  6. I think that one of the reasons soccer has stuck around is actually video games… All the guys on our lax team were addicted to Fifa 09 last year and they would be playing it in the hotel rooms. I think this got them into soccer more. A lot of them now follow international soccer because of it. I for one am hooked. You get the game better when you play the videogame version…. For football, I didn't have the slightest idea what a cover 2 was until I played Madden.