An Indictment of the American Soccer Fan

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An Indictment of the American Soccer Fan
(Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for New York Red Bull)

"The rest of the world loves soccer. Surely we must be missing something. Uh, isn't that what the Russians told us about communism? There's a good reason why you don't care about soccer—it's because you are an American and hating soccer is more American than mom's apple pie, driving a pick-up and spending Saturday afternoon channel-surfing with the remote control" —Tom Weir

Harsh words, with more than a little bit of truth to them.

We all know the person that Weir is referring to. Each and every football fan I've met in America knows a guy who steadfastly refuses to embrace the Beautiful Game regardless of how the rest of the world feels.

These folks see football as an inferior game, and no amount of persuasion on our part will ever change their mind.

I've learned to accept those people over the years. I'm sure they get equally frustrated when I express my distaste for one of their favorite sports. They are certainly entitled to their opinion, even though I strongly disagree.

I understand that those sports fans most likely grew up without even playing soccer and decided to devote their energies to athletic pursuits that they could better understand. That's fine, and those fans are not the issue.

One particular group of fans is really puzzling, though; I can't seem to figure them out. They claim to love the Beautiful Game, but something doesn't quite add up.

I'm talking about American football fans who will heap praise on far away European idols, yet refuse to embrace the domestic product.

I just don't get why somebody who claims to love football that much would turn a cold shoulder to the product in their own backyard.

The mantra of "MLS is terrible" is one that I expect from European fans. Their own domestic leagues definitely offer a superior product. These fans have been able to take great football for granted.

Well, unless they support Newcastle.

Point is, MLS wasn't created to draw the interest of European fans. The founders were well aware that European football is on an entirely different level. They were simply hoping to attract the American audience.

MLS has partially succeeded in that respect. The Toronto and Seattle franchises are setting attendance records left and right. Average attendance keeps rising. Franchises are becoming profitable, etc.

But...

There's a large group that MLS hasn't been able to reach. All too often, we meet an American football fan who will say something to the effect of, "MLS is terrible, I'll only watch European leagues."

Really? What a fantastic attitude. How many matches do you attend each season?

Typically, I'll discover that this fan watched one MLS match back in 1996 and gave up on the league.

They've ignored the growth and development that the league has enjoyed since its early seasons. They're oblivious to the talent roaming the pitch around the league right now.

Yes, the early years of MLS were atrocious. Yes, the league still has a long way to go before it can be considered an elite product. But the league hasn't even been around for 15 full seasons yet; we have to give it time to grow.

The ignorance of MLS' growth is terrible, but even worse than this willful ignorance is its implications for football in America as a whole.

Why are European leagues so successful? Why are the top international teams from the world from Europe?

Fan support.

La Liga, Seria A, the Bundesliga, and the Premier League all draw huge numbers, and as a result, the leagues are able to invest the money back into the game domestically. Fan support means big benefits for club, league and country.

So I'm puzzled as to why some American football fans wouldn't want that same kind of success, the same high level of play for MLS.

Instead of continuing to live vicariously through our European counterparts, why not focus some energy on football here at home? Why not become part of MLS' success in its earliest stages?

Without continued fan support, football in America will return to the embarrassment that it was just 15 years ago.

Is that really an attractive alternative? Do we really want to go back to the years when merely qualifying for a World Cup was next to impossible?

If MLS dies or becomes stagnant at this point, that's exactly what will happen.

Until 1996, America never had a true domestic football league. The NASL was technically an American venture, but teams were stocked with big names from Europe.

The NASL brass didn't bother to attempt to develop American talent until it was too late.

It's no coincidence that the birth and subsequent growth of MLS have happened alongside the emergence of the United States National Team as a player in international football.

MLS has offered the chance for competitive football for a generation of US Internationals, and that alone should be enough to merit our support.

We Americans tend to enjoy things that can bring us instant gratification, so I would offer the cases of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays.

Both of these expansion teams underwent some serious growing pains during their first few seasons, but the fans were patient.

This patience has been rewarded in the form of a World Series title for Arizona, and a World Series appearance last season by Tampa Bay.

As the saying goes, good things come to those who wait. If we buy into MLS, we won't be disappointed in the results.

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