Soccer in the USA: An Underdog Story
Was the 2014 World Cup that long-awaited it moment for beginning the scalability of soccer in the USA?
To be fair, this conversation occurs after every World Cup, with pundits claiming that finally, Americans will embrace soccer!
It hasn’t happened yet, but I think I know what the solution is and why this time around, it will actually happen.
The common arguments against this actually occurring are simply that Americans need to be entertained and soccer lacks the basic requirements to fulfill that hard-to-impress, Adderall-prescribed mentality. Bluntly, the implication is there’s not enough scoring and the game moves too slowly.
But there are two examples to contradict that point:
- Non-fans claim baseball is slower than a Tarkovsky film and point to general ratings as evidence it's in decline. But like other industries, baseball has zeroed in on a targeted audience with incredibly successful results. Need proof? Check out the astonomical media rights packages MLB teams receive. It's reflected in player salary scales, which are second only to those in ...
- Hockey, which serves as a closer comparison to soccer in that it’s primarily a blue-collar sport that's dominated by international players. It’s constantly moving with low-scoring results that rely upon the viewer to be completely dialed in. You hate missing the one goal that breaks one team’s heart and sends the other to the Stanley Cup. Like soccer, it requires patience and attention, and although there’s a violence factor, the NHL has joined the other sports in notching record revenues in recent times.
And like those sports, soccer can draw ratings from a target audience, which might have grown even more after Team USA's showing in Brazil.
So, given that Americans have the potential to appreciate a sport like soccer, why do some in media resist its temptation? Why do they resist the joy of watching a corner kick sail across the field to an athlete who’s stretched his body high amongst the fray to impossibly redirectt it into the goal?
The answer lies in America’s xenophobia and the strange politicization that’s occurred around it.
- Glenn Beck once said soccer was un-American like Universal Health Care.
- And during this past World Cup, right-wing shrew Ann Coulter said that “Any growing interest in soccer can only be a sign of the nation’s moral decay.”
Both are a tad over the top, but like WWE, that's their schtick. However, these criticisms echo some commonly held beliefs about soccer being a 'foreign' sport. Let me quickly point out that basketball was invented by a Canadian, hockey traces its roots back to ancient Egypt, baseball is a derivation of an old English, cricket-type game called rounders, and American football was a derivation of rugby, which evolved from soccer.
Unlike other nations, soccer isn’t yet an everyman’s sport here. When you see a pickup game in the city parks or beaches, it’s primarily recent immigrants or upper-class youths playing it. Your average American hasn’t grown up making goals with tin cans for posts or used an alleyway for his pitch. The task for MLS is getting that to change, and the way to do that is to champion our national team and its star players.
Shame on Ms Coulter for her limiting attitude. How un-American is it to walk away from a challenge? Isn’t the American ethos to fight against boundaries imposed by others? Was hockey more 'American' when the Miracle on Ice happened at the 1980 Winter Olympics? A primarily Canadian game dominated by Russians didn’t stop Americans from crashing the party with American Exceptionalism.
The country rallied behind its team because it mattered internationally.
Americans need to tap into that version of American patriotism, but they need to feel they’re the underdogs again, the ones counted out by snooty Europeans and Latinos. This is a chance to feel like Rocky again and not Apollo Creed prancing around the ring like a dandy. Middle America needs to feel like David slaying Goliath again and harness the power that comes with being treated second-class.
America isn’t the shining light it used to be; people don’t look at it in wonder as the new kid in school playing by his own rules. Most Americans feel this, even if they won’t vocalize it. But a USA team winning the World Cup would show that hard work, talent, and confidence can overcome tradition and cultural history.
Sports heroes are born that way, and they lay the foundation for future generations adopting a game.
Soccer doesn’t need to be 'American' for Americans to be good at it. They can make it 'American,' and with this USA team, they’re on the path to make that happen.