Why Americans Can—And Will—Embrace Soccer

Zander FreundSenior Writer IJune 19, 2008

Since we initiated our weekly Open Mic about the beautiful game of world football (aka "soccer") and its future in the United States, I've read a handful of pieces suggesting that the sport will simply never catch on in this country.

I'm here to tell you, my fellow Americans, that you are wrong, wrong, and wrong again.

Trust me here—for I was once like you. 

I hated the lack of scoring, and the never ending sense that nobody ever had true possession of the ball. I couldn't stand the way the players fell down on purpose and laid all over the field for minutes at a time like a bunch of babies.

The shin guards, the acting, the silly cards the refs stuck in the air (can't you just announce the penalty and enforce it like a man?)  It reeked of a softness that made Dirk Nowitzki look like Mike Tyson on PCP.

And perhaps most importantly, this whole notion that you couldn't use your hands...

I mean, come on now: in America we use our hands for everything!

We use our hands to clutch our french fries and burgers as we inhale another extra value meal—before licking our fingers to consume every last grain of salt.

We use our hands to crack open our beer cans—and then again to flip them upside down and consume the liquid found within the metal container at warp speed. We use our paws once again to crush the container aggressively and remind us we're sane—and finally to throw the remains on the ground in a frenzy of testosterone.

We use our hands to grab our wallets when we pay for things, which we love to do; we use our hands to embrace our women and hold them close, letting them know that if any jerk looks at them the wrong way that they'll end up with a bloody lip.

It's no coincidence that soccer is not seen as a very "American" sport. The fact that it's so popular in the rest of the world but not here just feeds into this stereotype.  

And then, when we see our teams go down to the likes of Italy, France, or Brazil, it gives us reason to further shun the game as illegitimate.

After all: us Americans don't like to be second best.

But the truth, everybody—no matter how much you don't want to hear it—is that it's all in your head.

Soccer isn't unAmerican in the slightest. We Americans adore sports as much as any other nation.

And as a sport with as rich of a historical tradition as any—constantly overflowing with athletic entertainment—its due time that we begin to appreciate the great game of soccer (err..."football").

This is a nation that feeds on competitive athletics; the nation of Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson.

The nation of Jesse Owens and Jerry Rice.

The nation of Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, and Tiger Woods.

If we can enjoy the talents of these great performers, we can surely acknowledge the likes of Pele and Beckenbauer—or more recently, that kid Ronaldo out of Portugal.

Soccer is by no means a slow paced game that we as a country are too restless to embrace.  There is continuous action for 90 minutes; the idea of a "timeout," "commercial break," or "two minute warning" simply does not exist. 

We're too impatient for soccer, ehh? Give me a break! Have you ever watched a baseball game?

I traveled to Germany with some friends for the last World Cup and it totally changed my perspective on the game. Being forced to watch entire matches at a time made me realize how talented those guys on the field were, and how a great play could so easily energize a crowd.

At the end of the trip, I felt like a complete bufoon. I had missed out on so many great games simply due to narrow mindedness. 

As a child, when my father made me watch Diego Maradona play I hardly gave a rat's ass. I could have been studying the game and learning about its intricacies the way I had with baseball, football, and hoops.

Instead, I hid my face in the cowardly notion that soccer wasn't for me because "there wasn't enough scoring." It was foolish.

Look, I know we like to do things our own way over here. I know we've got four great professional games that we're already attached too at the hip.

But look guys: there is a reason why soccer is the world's most popular sport.  It is a game that requires a steady combination of speed, athleticism, endurance, and power.

And before you jump down my throat for that last one, why don't you do yourself a favor and watch Roberto Carlos kick this goal.

Mark my words, young Americans: in your lifetime, the United States will reach a World Cup Final. And when that happens, this entire country is going to open their eyes to the beautiful game.

You meanwhile will sit there, like I did, wondering why you didn't start caring sooner.  

It's not too late—you can still jump on the bandwagon fresh and early before everyone hops aboard.

The European Championships is in full effect right now, and it just continues to get more exciting. TIVO some games while you're at work, and instead of watching the Red Sox or Yankees when you get home, tune in to some world class football.

It might take some getting used too, but I promise it will be worth it in the end.

Take it from me, former ugly American: soccer is here to stay.