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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.