Soccer Versus Football

Gordon BengtsonContributor IApril 9, 2009

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 08:  Liverpool fans on The Kop show their support prior to the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final First Leg match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield on April 8, 2009 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

While watching leg one of the Champions League quarterfinal that featured two of the English Premier League elite, Chelsea against Liverpool, I wondered if American “soccer” will ever reach the level of European “football.”


Neither team has an American player on its roster; nor do the other six teams in the quarterfinals of the best club team tournament in the world.


Aside from Jozy Altidore being on loan from Villarreal to second division Xerez Club Deportivo, there are very few American footballers in the top flight clubs around Europe.


Having followed international football games for years and been a part of US youth soccer development programs as a youth I question why the top leagues don't have more American born players when seemingly every stateside child plays soccer growing up? Why have we not seen American’s obsession with sports shift to include the “World’s Game?” Will American “soccer” ever reach the level of Football that is displayed across Europe?


I hold a few theories that seek to explain why American soccer has yet to evolve the way European football did. I know many people will argue that American Soccer is still young and growing. But let’s be serious, how many times has soccer successfully gotten Joe Sportsfan’s attention?


The United States, in so many ways, is driven purely by economics. So, the money goes to the big time sports: basketball, baseball and american football.


An aspiring athlete who has the option to choose what sport to pursue as a professional will never chose Soccer because of the lack of financial potential here in the States. That being said, the best athletes that America has to offer play basketball, baseball and American football. All chasing the "American Dream."


Imagine LeBron James going up for a header on a corner kick or Reggie Bush getting a one-on-one in the penalty box. Just picture someone trying to score against Randy Moss or Antonio Gates as a goalie. Seeing Jacoby Ellsbury or B.J. Upton streak down the sidelines to track down a long ball like it’s a fly ball would be awesome. Do you think any of those athletes would fill seats at MLS stadiums around the country?


Sure, bringing in international superstars such as David Beckham and Freddie Ljungberg will grab the average Football fan’s attention but it will have little impact on the common American sportswatcher.


MLS teams will never succeed to the level that MLB, NFL or NBA teams have because we cannot populate our home soil league with our best Soccer players, let alone our best athletes.


On the 22-man roster for World Cup Qualifying, only five of those athletes play in the MLS. Yes, one of them is Landon Donovan who is team captain and the face of the MLS right now—kudos for getting that one right U.S. soccer.


It was Freddy Adu who was set to become the transcending player of soccer and the MLS. The child prodigy was heralded as the next Pele. Now at age 19, Freddy is playing “real” football in France.


The fact is that we need more than just one face to be equated with the MLS and American soccer. There will be no LeBron, Tiger Woods, or Michael Jordan of soccer unless we can organically cultivate those stars from within our own borders.


Undoubtedly America is the home of the world’s best athletes but our National Soccer Team is currently ranked 15th in the latest FIFA rankings. We are behind the likes of Turkey, Greece, Czech Republic, and Russia.


Personally, I think it’s an embarrassment that America is so poorly represented in the “World’s Game.”


We need more than just a few stars here and there. We need teams and matches heated with competition, desire, and rivalry.


Granted, our MLS teams lack the deep history that most rivalries have but, nonetheless, the games need to be played on a more inspired, fervent and professional level.


This is the conundrum facing U.S. soccer today.


Our best players are still not good enough yet, so they need to go abroad to compete against the world’s elite. A simple fact of competition—if you want to be the best, then you have to compete against the best.


The MLS doesn’t have the home grown star power or rivalries that the NBA, NFL and MLB do, so no one cares.


A vicious cycle for sure.


How do we inject the pride and passion into American soccer like that which fuels European football when we cannot convince our best athletes to play soccer and it is not in our developmental interests to keep our own top players in our home league?


How can we develop stronger U.S. Soccer program? How can we get more people out to the MLS home games? And how can we inspire our fellow American to show their colors like the fans abroad.


Their dedication to the team is unrivaled. It's like the fans are on steroids, not the athletes.


Well, I certainly don’t see it happening anytime soon and frankly, it is astonishing that soccer will not find a home in the country that is completely obsessed with sports.


But, we already have a sport called football, thanks.