Soccer was a part of my early childhood, just like anyone else’s. At the ripe age of five, my dad strapped shin guards to my legs and hustled me onto the large green field with one very simple instruction: “Kick the ball into the net.”
At the time it seemed like a monumental task, but since thinking back I’ve realized how elementary those directions were. So why would my dad, a man who, if allowed, would undoubtedly try to teach a new born baby the intricacies of the jump shot, given such basic instructions about competitive soccer?
The answer: He didn’t know anything to teach. Soccer was a mystery to him.
The only reason I was on that soccer field as a youngster was so my dad could evaluate my athletic ability. Once he saw that I could play, my shins guards were replaced with baseball socks and my cleats were shelved in favor of basketball shoes. I walked off the big green rectangle and never looked back.
I bet if you ask most people my age (22) and above about their childhood sports experience, a lot would relay a similar version of the story I just told. That’s just the way American sports operate. It’s a frustrating lot for true soccer fans, but that’s life in the big city.
Soccer will never be the first priority for mainstream American sports for two reasons:
Reason One: Exposure
Quick, name 10 teams in the MLS in less than 30 seconds (waiting…waiting…). Okay, stop. Couldn’t do it, could you? Are you surprised? Of course not. No one knows MLS that well. And that’s the problem.
The MLS isn’t popular in America. It has second-rate players, washed up has-beens, and no entertainment appeal. Americans who do love soccer look to Europe and the English Premier league for their fix.
So how can soccer flourish among the youth of America when they have no local players to idolize? Simply put: It can’t. The NBA and NFL are at the head of the class in American sports because they’re image is everywhere.
Kids grow up watching Payton Manning and Brett Farve become social icons for their accomplishments on the football field. Guys like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are all over the television as ambassadors for the NBA.
It’s a cyclical thing. Kids grow to love these athletes and want to mimic their every move. So they pick up a basketball or football and go play with their friends. All the while trying to throw that 70-yard touchdown pass like Tom Brady or hit that fade away jumper like Paul Pierce.
And out of those playground sessions, athletic talent is sharpened. So when they enroll in high school and begin to play sports, football and basketball are invariably their first choice. It’s a cycle that perpetuates itself, and unfortunately soccer is on the outside looking in.
Reason No. 2: Money
Besides David Beckham (who isn’t even American), who has ever heard of a filthy rich American soccer player? By contrast, is there an athlete in the NBA, MLB, or NFL who isn’t swimming in piles of cash?
Take the NFL for example. Even if you’re a scrub who plays only a few snaps on special teams each week, you’ll earn over $400 grand a year! $400 grand! Professional soccer in the U.S. doesn’t have that type of financial security. Not even close.
So which sports do you think kids will gravitate towards? Or in some cases, which sport will all the money hungry fathers out there push their kids towards? The ones with fame and fortune or…soccer?
Dads have an enormous influence on the sports their sons and daughters pick up as young children. You can bet they’ll push sports that might have a potentially pay day at the end of the road.
In the end, soccer in the U.S. will always take a backseat to the larger, more profitable and popular sports. It’s a tough bullet to bite for soccer fans, but somebody’s got to do it.