Are American Soccer Fans Hurting Soccer in the US?
Visit any of the major soccer message boards that cater to U.S soccer fans, and you will likely read virtually the same threads over and over: threads about how some political commentator believes soccer is destroying America, threads about how some sports media talking head (most notably ESPN's Jim Rome) hates soccer, threads about starting a Facebook for soccer defenders, and threads about how FoxSoccer.com writer Jamie Trecker is an idiot for being critical of soccer in the U.S.
You also have the threads about how bad the MLS sucks, how much U.S fans who like Real Madrid, Barca, or "the big four" aren't really soccer fans, threads about how horrible the U.S. National Team is, and threads lecturing us, referring to soccer as football and American football as "throwball."
The sport's biggest fans have fallen into a self-imposed form of Balkanization, where cyberspace has reduced soccer fans in the U.S into two categories: the true believers and the Europhiles.
The true believers are primarily those who grew up with the game as kids, played through their teens or even in college, and held onto their love of soccer well into adulthood.
I might fall into this category, if not for the fact that I somehow have bypassed the delusional nature that many soccer fans in this nation have fallen victim to.
Aside from the genesis of the true believers' love for the beautiful game, there are also other traits that we can distill into the Five Commandments of the American Soccer True Believer.
Commandment One: Thou shall have no other sports before thee.
Commandment Two: Thou shall always be looking around every corner for any example of somebody disrespecting soccer.
Commandment Three: Thou shall never speak ill of MLS.
Commandment Four: Thou must always overestimate the U.S. Men's National Team's chances in any international contest.
Commandment Five: Thou shall proselytize the entire world as to the greatness of American soccer.
The true believer is a believer in the possibilities of American soccer to the point that they become delusional or downright annoying in their support for anything remotely critical of the sport (or any American institution related to the sport).
You cannot like American football, basketball, baseball, or any other sport if you are a true believer because interest in other sports is some sign of treason.
The true believer is always on the lookout for the latest anti-soccer rant from ESPN talking heads like Jim Rome or Colin Cowherd, and will boost their ratings by watching and listening to their respective shows just to find an occasional anti-soccer rant they can get upset over.
Then there is the constant zeal that the true believer has on a quest to "convert" every American football, baseball, and hockey fan in the world into a soccer fan.
Not just a soccer fan, mind you, but an American soccer fan, who feels the need to spread the gospel of American soccer with the zeal of a missionary, converting both the unwashed (American) football-loving masses and the naysayers that question the quality of soccer in this nation as well.
Speaking of those soccer fans that question the quality of American soccer, they are known among the Internet community as Europhiles, or as the true believers refer to them, "the Euro snobs."
The Europhile might be a European immigrant, or more likely, they might be somebody who grew up like the true believer yet tries too hard to seem overly sophisticated concerning the world's game.
Europhiles have their own Five Commandments that they follow just as dogmatically as the true believer does.
Commandment One: Thou shall have no other sports before thee.
Commandment Two: Thou shall label the followers of any big-money European club as "posers."
Commandment Three: Thou shall tell anybody who will listen that MLS is garbage.
Commandment Four: Thou will follow the U.S Men's National Team, but have a primary allegiance to a National side of a nation where you have never lived nor ever plan on ever living.
Commandment Five: Thou shall hate ESPN because of their EPL bias.
A few months back on a college basketball message board (CAUTION: I like other sports aside from soccer), I was lectured by a Celtic fan that the only "true soccer fans" were those posting in the thread that support Celtic, Fenerbahce, and West Ham.
In the mind of the Europhile, the "true soccer fan" is one who finds a club that the average sports-savvy American (or casual soccer fan) has never heard of and disregards fans of "glamour clubs" as posers.
I feel no need to defend being a Manchester United supporter for 15 years, becoming a fan of the club because I was a fan of Eric Cantona and supporting the Red Devils ever since Gordon Strachan ran "Eric the Great" out of Leeds.
Even more frustrating is the constant reminder of how "third rate" soccer in the United States is in relation to the rest of the world.
Aside from the most hardcore of true believers, most soccer fans in the U.S know that MLS is nowhere near the quality of the English Premiership, La Liga, Serie A, or the Bundesliga. However, neither are 99 percent of the domestic leagues in the world.
The purpose of MLS isn't to compete with the giants of Europe or even Argentina and Brazil, but rather to provide a professional league for American players and develop fan interest in the sport.
However, where both sides fail is that they view soccer in this nation as a zero-sum game.
Either the U.S Men's National Team is elite, or they aren't worthy to be on the same pitch as even a mid-level European or South American side. Either MLS is truly Major League Soccer or its quality is somewhere near the Liechtenstein First Division.
American soccer fans must spread the Gospel of Joga Bonito; however, it needs to be the American soccer Good News that is spread. Also, be sure you follow the right European club or risk being labeled a neophyte or a poser.
The common trait among both groups that seem to populate the American soccer Internet community is simply insecurity.
Who cares what Jim Rome and his "clones" think about soccer? Who cares how "hardcore" your fandom credentials are because you support Hull City or Wigan rather than Chelsea or Arsenal?
Such insecurities do nothing but make soccer fans—and by extension, soccer itself—look petty and second rate in comparison to fans of the "major" U.S sports.
Legendary soccer writer Pete Gardner once said of soccer, "At its best, football is an exhilarating, highly athletic contest between 22 of the greatest athletes in the world. At its worst, it’s a tremendous bore."
If someone with no background as a soccer fan watched today’s UEFA Champions League second leg quarterfinal match between Chelsea and Liverpool (eight goals!!!) and gained an interest in soccer, then that is a great thing.
The game has sold itself for its positive attributes, yet some would complain that MLS deserves that attention or that the new soccer fan might become a Chelsea supporter and thus not a "real fan."
That same new fan might even check out a MLS match someday, yet beware that some of you will be sure to question the intelligence of this new fan by leading him to believe that MLS is an elite brand of soccer, or on the other hand insult him or her for wasting their time on such an inferior product.
Now for the hard truth for both parties: Soccer will never be bigger than football, baseball, or basketball in this country, and the reasons are far too many to include in this article.
However, if soccer is going to grow and improve in this nation, the true believers, and then the Europhiles, must leave their insecurities and personal beliefs behind for the sport and potential fanbase to grow.
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