Will This Do It?

Twenty years ago the U.S. played an elimination game in the World Cup against Brazil in Palo Alto, CA. With a wild home crowd supporting them on the 4th of July no less, the U.S. came close, but lost to the eventual champions 1-0. Soccer looked primed for a huge jump in this country, but it didn’t happen.

Twelve years ago the U.S. won an elimination game in the World Cup over Mexico and then lost in the quarterfinals to eventual runner up, Germany, 1-0. Soccer looked primed for a big jump in this country, but it didn’t happen.

Today the U.S. lost an elimination game to Belgium 2-1 in overtime. The final twenty minutes were thrilling, but we know how the previous stories ended. Still,  i sensed something different today. People were talking about this game before and after it. My wife reported the bars being jammed on her way home with fans rooting the U.S. on (I was in front of my TV by then). We have a diehard fan club for our national team and a pretty cool chant. The President is trying to get into it (though he might need to get the chant down next time) But can this happen? Can soccer launch in this country for real this time? Time will tell, and we have seen false starts before, but I think it will. I hope it will.

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  • Greg  On July 2, 2014 at 12:11 am

    “Big jump”. “Huge jump”. What do these phrases mean? If you mean “the Big Four” becomes “the Big Five”, i.e., soccer becomes at least as popular as hockey (the smallest of the Big Four in the US in terms of broad appeal), then I don’t see that happening any time soon, i.e., certainly not in the next 20 years. As I see it, the growth of soccer’s popularity in the US has factors a few favoring it and many factors opposing it:

    Factors favoring:

    1. Lots of kids play soccer. Playing as a kid leads to an appreciation for the game that those who haven’t played it cannot achieve as easily.

    2. Based on current demographic trends and projections, the US is going to become a majority Hispanic country sometime in the middle of the century. The growth is fueled in two ways: by immigration (legal and illegal) and by higher birth rates in the Hispanic community relative to the rest of the country. And of course, Latinos born overseas are huge soccer fans.

    Factors opposing:

    1. Soccer is viewed by many Americans as boring, primarily because the scoring tends to be low. Further, the resulting tie-breaking schemes are seen by many as bogus. They play 90 minutes in regular time, often ending in a tie (did I mention the scoring tends to be low?), perhaps another 45 minutes in extra time, still tied up (because, umm, you know, the scoring tends to be low), only to have the game decided on a penalty kicks shootout. That strikes many Americans as somehow illegitimate. I personally don’t feel that way, but I’ve read and heard others express the sentiment. I understand why they need to employ these schemes — soccer is tiring (these guys are constantly running around), and they can’t just keep playing 45-minute periods; the players will drop dead on the pitch from exhaustion.

    2. Soccer is perceived by many Americans as being slow. It’s not, really. That’s an illusion created by television. I had the good fortune to live in Europe in ’94-’95 and I attended a few soccer games. These guys can consistently kick the ball 150 km/h (roughly 93 miles/h). Believe me, it looks plenty fast when seen up close. By way of comparison, I’ve found that television makes MLB pitches look slower, too. Pitches somehow seem faster when viewed up close and live at the ballpark. I suppose it has to do with the difference in perspective.

    3. Many Americans consider soccer as suspiciously “foreign”. If you read Ann Coulter’s recent article on the subject, you’ll know just what I mean. While her article was particularly obnoxious, I’ve read and heard such sentiments expressed many times before, albeit somewhat less venomously. I’ve found that of those Americans who dislike soccer, there is a significant subset who actually resent all the attention it gets during every World Cup, and tend to think of American soccer fans as belonging to one of two suspect groups: Those “foreigners” (i.e., immigrants, legal or not) who aren’t “real” Americans anyway and whose love of soccer is but one of many examples of their degrading influence on American society and culture or those sorts of Americans (many whom I will label, for want of a better term, as comparatively “liberal” in their outlook) who tend to be more “cosmopolitan” or internationalist at heart. Remember that barely more than a third of American citizens hold a passport (and the present percentage of American passport holders is the highest it’s ever been). I submit that not only is soccer as popular as it has ever been among US-born citizens, but also that this fact is correlated to the fact that a record percentage of US citizens also hold passports. There is a significant segment of the population that thinks we have nothing to learn from foreigners; (these are the sorts of people who, when running for office, brag that they’ve never been overseas, as if the mere fact of having done is somehow suspect and makes them less genuinely American, and who actually resent, to some degree, outsiders. These are the sorts of folks who consider Europe as a socialist hell scarcely better than the Soviet Union. And you can just forget about Latin America. For many such people, soccer is associated with suspect people and/or suspect world views. These people will never easily become soccer fans.

    4. Some Americans consider soccer as somehow effeminate. It has to do primarily with two things: The players wear shorts. Basketball players wear shorts, too but somehow this same logic doesn’t apply to basketball players. Don’t ask me why. All the overly dramatic acting whenever a guy goes down, trying to draw a flag against his opponents, seems unmanly. In truth, these guys are excellent athletes. They’re running around non-stop for 45 minutes at a clip. Baseball, football and basketball players can’t make that claim.

    5. Remember all those Hispanic immigrants I mentioned earlier? In my experience (I know, small sample space) most of their American-born children are assimilated to such a degree that the other opposing factors I mentioned earlier seem to predominate, meaning that they tend not to be nearly as passionate about soccer as their fathers.

    6. All these opposing factors make it hard for soccer to take off here, which means that Americans don’t play as much, which means Americans aren’t as competitive relative to other players around the world, which means Americans are much less likely to win a World Cup anytime soon, which is exactly what the US needs to do in order to give soccer the critical boost it needs here to take off. Further, with the World Cup held every four years, it’s hard to hold Americans’ interest.

    I remember when the New York Cosmos of the NASL had assembled a team of imported superstars (Pelé, Beckenbauer, Chinaglia, Messing et al) back in the ’70s and were consistently drawing 60,000+ fans at the Meadowlands. People were saying then that soccer had finally arrived in the US. A few years later, the NASL folded.

    I hope soccer takes off here, I really do. But I think it will lag significantly behind the Big Four for many decades to come.

  • Greg  On July 2, 2014 at 12:14 am

    And I have no idea how I enabled red font and bold. I must have inadvertently inserted some HTML control sequences. Apologies.

  • Greg  On July 2, 2014 at 12:18 am

    Okay, I know what I did: I enumerated my “bullet” items, enclosing the numbers in angles brackets. Bad idea — this was mistaken for HTML. I’ll re-post below:

    —————————————————————————————-

    “Big jump”. “Huge jump”. What do these phrases mean? If you mean “the Big Four” becomes “the Big Five”, i.e., soccer becomes at least as popular as hockey (the smallest of the Big Four in the US in terms of broad appeal), then I don’t see that happening any time soon, i.e., certainly not in the next 20 years. As I see it, the growth of soccer’s popularity in the US has factors a few favoring it and many factors opposing it:

    Factors favoring:

    1. Lots of kids play soccer. Playing as a kid leads to an appreciation for the game that those who haven’t played it cannot achieve as easily.

    2. Based on current demographic trends and projections, the US is going to become a majority Hispanic country sometime in the middle of the century. The growth is fueled in two ways: by immigration (legal and illegal) and by higher birth rates in the Hispanic community relative to the rest of the country. And of course, Latinos born overseas are huge soccer fans.

    Factors opposing:

    1. Soccer is viewed by many Americans as boring, primarily because the scoring tends to be low. Further, the resulting tie-breaking schemes are seen by many as bogus. They play 90 minutes in regular time, often ending in a tie (did I mention the scoring tends to be low?), perhaps another 45 minutes in extra time, still tied up (because, umm, you know, the scoring tends to be low), only to have the game decided on a penalty kicks shootout. That strikes many Americans as somehow illegitimate. I personally don’t feel that way, but I’ve read and heard others express the sentiment. I understand why they need to employ these schemes — soccer is tiring (these guys are constantly running around), and they can’t just keep playing 45-minute periods; the players will drop dead on the pitch from exhaustion.

    2. Soccer is perceived by many Americans as being slow. It’s not, really. That’s an illusion created by television. I had the good fortune to live in Europe in ’94-’95 and I attended a few soccer games. These guys can consistently kick the ball 150 km/h (roughly 93 miles/h). Believe me, it looks plenty fast when seen up close. By way of comparison, I’ve found that television makes MLB pitches look slower, too. Pitches somehow seem faster when viewed up close and live at the ballpark. I suppose it has to do with the difference in perspective.

    3. Many Americans consider soccer as suspiciously “foreign”. If you read Ann Coulter’s recent article on the subject, you’ll know just what I mean. While her article was particularly obnoxious, I’ve read and heard such sentiments expressed many times before, albeit somewhat less venomously. I’ve found that of those Americans who dislike soccer, there is a significant subset who actually resent all the attention it gets during every World Cup, and tend to think of American soccer fans as belonging to one of two suspect groups: A) Those “foreigners” (i.e., immigrants, legal or not) who aren’t “real” Americans anyway and whose love of soccer is but one of many examples of their degrading influence on American society and culture or B) those sorts of Americans (many whom I will label, for want of a better term, as comparatively “liberal” in their outlook) who tend to be more “cosmopolitan” or internationalist at heart. Remember that barely more than a third of American citizens hold a passport (and the present percentage of American passport holders is the highest it’s ever been). I submit that not only is soccer as popular as it has ever been among US-born citizens, but also that this fact is correlated to the fact that a record percentage of US citizens also hold passports. There is a significant segment of the population that thinks we have nothing to learn from foreigners; (these are the sorts of people who, when running for office, brag that they’ve never been overseas, as if the mere fact of having done is somehow suspect and makes them less genuinely American, and who actually resent, to some degree, outsiders. These are the sorts of folks who consider Europe as a socialist hell scarcely better than the Soviet Union. And you can just forget about Latin America. For many such people, soccer is associated with suspect people and/or suspect world views. These people will never easily become soccer fans.

    4. Some Americans consider soccer as somehow effeminate. It has to do primarily with two things: 1) The players wear shorts. Basketball players wear shorts, too but somehow this same logic doesn’t apply to basketball players. Don’t ask me why. 2) All the overly dramatic acting whenever a guy goes down, trying to draw a flag against his opponents, seems unmanly. In truth, these guys are excellent athletes. They’re running around non-stop for 45 minutes at a clip. Baseball, football and basketball players can’t make that claim.

    5. Remember all those Hispanic immigrants I mentioned earlier? In my experience (I know, small sample space) most of their American-born children are assimilated to such a degree that the other opposing factors I mentioned earlier seem to predominate, meaning that they tend not to be nearly as passionate about soccer as their fathers.

    6. All these opposing factors make it hard for soccer to take off here, which means that Americans don’t play as much, which means Americans aren’t as competitive relative to other players around the world, which means Americans are much less likely to win a World Cup anytime soon, which is exactly what the US needs to do in order to give soccer the critical boost it needs here to take off. Further, with the World Cup held every four years, it’s hard to hold Americans’ interest.

    I remember when the New York Cosmos of the NASL had assembled a team of imported superstars (Pelé, Beckenbauer, Chinaglia, Messing et al) back in the ’70s and were consistently drawing 60,000+ fans at the Meadowlands. People were saying then that soccer had finally arrived in the US. A few years later, the NASL folded.

    I hope soccer takes off here, I really do. But I think it will lag significantly behind the Big Four for many decades to come.

    • nysportsfanatic  On July 2, 2014 at 8:34 am

      Greg-

      Great comment. Yes, I did mean becoming a part of the big 4.

      While you are right that winning would be the ultimate, boost, we are pretty good at soccer now. From 1950 to 1990, the U.S. didn’t qualify for World Cup. We grew up in an era when U.S. soccer was a joke. Anyone younger than 30 has seen the U.S. men make almost every World Cup in their lifetime and seen the U.S. women win two of them.

      I also think the youth factor you mentioned is huge. While I completely agree that many soccer players are perceived as effete, when your kid plays it you won’t/don’t think that.

      I was talking to Andy (the guy who never posts on YR.com) about this the other day and we both wish FIFA would add a “flopping rule” like the NBA did. There are too many “actors” out there instead of soccer players. Time to put an end to that.

      Your reason #3 against mass adoption of soccer made me shake my head sadly in agreement and then google the Ann Coulter article. Wow, that was a trove of misinformation and ignorance. She doesn’t seem to get baseball or any of our big sports either. The hate expressed in that last paragraph is amazing for its ignorance and its breadth.

      I still have my Cosmos pennant and my NY Arrows one (remember them?) I think the one difference today is that MLS has caught on and isn’t in danger of folding. It can’t compete with La Liga or EPL, but World Soccer ranked it 7th in the world. Yet, that is also the problem. We have a league which is probably a AA-AAA level in baseball terms. Until we get the top players in the world routinely we won’t have the round the clock attention of the public. (I’m just as guilty of ignoring MLS as anyone else) That is probably the biggest obstacle facing the spot.

  • blmeanie  On July 2, 2014 at 6:56 am

    meh, it is a boring version of the olympics. I had to google how often the world cup is played. Found it interesting that each gender play every 4 years alternating on odd 2 year rotations.

    For me, scoring, scoring , scoring.

    I marvel at a 1-0 pitching duel in baseball, but if 95% of the games in MLB were 1-0 or 1-1, 0-0 through 9 innings then I probably wouldn’t be that interested in baseball.

    In soccer, what keeps the scoring down? Seriously, I don’t follow the sport. I watched what was the last 15 minutes or so last night when I got home and doubled (not kidding) my soccer viewing in my lifetime.

    So when baseball scoring trends down, or hockey scoring, football (american) scoring decreases they review rules, and update some to bring EXCITEMENT back into the games.

    Is soccer so in love with exhausted humans unable to score goals and so in love with tradition (see tennis/golf) that they are limiting the appeal?

    Why is there so much appeal world wide? Near zero cost to play? You can play anywhere? Street? Field? parking lot?

    I was asked long ago about why I never liked soccer, it always has been the scoring. I appreciate the skills, absolutely, maybe having 8 or so guys clogging the area in front of the net (sorry, 8 or so from each team) makes it near impossible to score. I love lacrosse, grew up in the northeast where it is strong. It, to me, is soccer but with lots of exciting scoring. Lots of running, big field (soccer field is too big IMO and too many players), lots of skill. And scoring.

    As far as when the U.S. becomes a country with hispanic majority, soccer will be significant in local youth, which it already is up until kids get to middle school or high school age. Will it become mainstream like the big 3.5 ? Don’t think so unless they change how the game is played. Right now, I probably could enjoy watching a triathlon more than watching soccer. I will be more amazed at the triathlon’s physical skills vs. soccer player. Change will never happen because the game isn’t “ours” to change, the rest of the world (my impression) doesn’t see any issues with the game.

    My quick fix as a non-fan: smaller field, less players, rules about how many can be in “attack zone” enabling break aways, odd man rushes, scoring. Doesn’t that sound like indoor soccer without the boards?

    This is the most I have thought about soccer ever, I am tired. Glad you guys enjoy it, glad (for me) it only registers in the consciousness every couple years.

    • nysportsfanatic  On July 2, 2014 at 8:45 am

      Yes, i think the popularity of the game is due to the fact that you can basically play anywhere with almost anything substituting for a ball. Add in the fact that teams of two-on-two work and you have a sport perfectly suited for economically developing countries.

      I totally understand your criticisms. I like how you incorporated some lacrosse (great game) rules into your fixes for soccer. And you are right, it isn’t ours to change and too many people love it as is.

      And I appreciate the fact that you don’t enjoy the sport, but also don’t mind that other people do enjoy it. Sadly, your attitude is sorely lacking (see Greg’s post with the Ann Coulter references)

      Rest up, you are safe until next year when the women take the field.

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