A debate that has been raging forever in America is about to breakout once again. Reports are out that after the World Cup in South Africa, France’s Thierry Henry will play for the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer.
Henry becomes the latest aging soccer star to come to the United States at the twilight of a great career. Knowing soccer fans in the USA, they will quickly claim that Henry coming to the states will start the boom that will make soccer one of the top sports in America.
This is not the first time an aging star was supposed to place soccer near the top of the sports world, not only in the USA but North America as well. Since the 1970s the sport of soccer was supposed to take off as one of the most watched sports in America.
The first soccer star brought to the states was the Brazilian great Pele in 1975 to the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League. In 1977, Pele helped lead the Cosmos to the league title in his final year with the club.
While the Cosmos regularly drew fans to their games but the rest of the league did not draw fans. Also, the league drew poor television ratings at a time when there were few television programs for the sport to contend with and the cable TV boom had yet to take place.
The boom Pele was supposed to start did not happen in TV ratings but did start a boom in youth soccer in America. Even thought the number of kids playing soccer has grown since the late '70s that still has not translated in to TV ratings over the same time period.
In 1994 the soccer boom was supposed to hit once more as the USA hosted the World Cup on home soil. Once the tournament starts in South Africa, all hopes will be that this is the World Cup that makes Americans stop and watch soccer.
Before Henry, the latest attempt to make soccer relevant in the USA was to bring David Beckham to the states. Beckham is known worldwide and has even inspired movies.
The world’s best know soccer star in America was greeted with fanfare and expectations. Then the novelty wore off as Americans turned to their first love football.
While there is nothing wrong with the Red Bulls bring Henry to America, anyone who thinks Henry will put soccer near the top of the sports heap in the USA is wrong.
New York might have be better served bring Henry’s former French teammate Zinedine Zidane to the US. Americans might tune in to see if Zidane head-butted, crotch kicked, or spit on another player.
Major League Soccer cannot even find a ratings boom with Beckham in America, so there is little chance MLS will fare better with Henry. If a British soccer star cannot bring ratings to the US, a French star stands less of a chance.
There are several reasons why soccer has not made headway into the United States. Americans understand the game and how it is played but they will not watch on TV.
Soccer faces an uphill climb in the United States if it wants to break into the top echelon of sports. There is room at the top for soccer to make a move to reach for but can soccer find away to get into the top tier.
In the United States the top sport is football and it is far and away the most popular sport.
Following football is basketball, and then baseball or NASCAR in the third spot.
Hockey has done more to hurt itself in labor disputes but has made headway and holds down the fourth spot. Soccer gets jumbled in with tennis, horseracing, boxing, MMA, and golf when Tiger Woods is not contending. Tiger in the hunt trumps everything but the NFL and the NBA.
To those few Americans and the rest of the world that loves the beautiful game, they do not understand why soccer is not bigger in the US. The biggest reason and one that does not need a lot of time spent on it is that America does contend in the sport.
Europeans and the rest of the world might not like it but we, as Americans, do not care about a sport unless we win at it or dominate it with regularity. The rest of the world thinks it American arrogance but in reality it is because we have so many other sports watching options.
Here are five reasons why soccer will never catch on in America.
Ties/lack of scoring
Americans love scoring and sports here have done everything possible to encourage more points. Through rule changes nearly every sport has tweaked rules to give fans more scoring.
Soccer is a great game, but it lacks scoring most of the time. Games often go very far into regulation before one team sneaks a goal past the keeper.
Plus if teams are tied at the end of regulation, the game ends in a tie. In America the hatred of ties goes back far.
In 1953, Navy coach Eddie Erdelatz famously said, “A tie is like kissing your sister,” after his team and Duke played to a scoreless tie. Ties are so hated in American sports even college football has made it nearly impossible for a game to end in a tie.
Baseball rarely if ever ends in a tie game; also, ask current commissioner Bud Selig how much hated ties are after the 2002 All-Star game ended in a 7-7 tie. Basketball games never end in a tie since both teams play as many overtimes as necessary until there is a winner.
Even Hockey has done away with ties in the regular season. The NHL plays overtime then goes to a shootout just so a game does not ends in a tie.
Soccer will never take off in America until the game can produce more scores and end tie games.
Flops, fake injuries, and magic spray
This is soccer’s biggest complaint by Americans. Players tend to flop and fake injuries all the time.
How many times do you see a player fall on the ground and roll around like they have just suffered a career ending injury, only to get up a second later and run all over the field? The flops and fake injuries just to get a call in soccer annoy Americans.
We like a sports stars tough and we are quick to turn on any player who seems soft. If a football player acted like a soccer player they would face media humiliation.
All though American sports lore are stories about athletes playing through injury. Think about Kirk Gibson on one knee hitting a home run in the 1988 World Series game one, or Willis Reed limping into Madison Square Garden for game seven of the 1970 NBA Finals.
There are countless times American football players have played though tough injuries in hopes of leading their team to a victory. These players would never roll on the ground and acted injured unless they truly were.
Sure, soccer fans will say this is gamesmanship and players are just trying to get a call for their team, but it is annoying. Every time a player is carted off the field on a stretcher and then returns to the game a minute later is plain sad.
Another thing soccer players used to do if they faked an injury was to roll around and then after being carried off the field the trainer would take a spray can out and blast the injury with it. This magic spray healed all injuries and players were able to run and jump and rejoin the game.
Until soccer finds toughness it will never find a place in the heart of Americans.
This is real simple. There are no first legs or second legs. There is no way where away goals count more than home goals.
Americans want a clear winner and either a winner-takes-all playoff system or a best-of-whatever playoff system. Also no playoff game should ever end in a tie.
Playoff games should have finality to them not end in ties. Soccer has to find away to fix its system of playoffs. Still, what is worst is playing a whole regular season and having no playoffs.
Europe’s biggest soccer leagues do not have a playoff system. That is just plain annoying to Americans as well.
Soccer will always find a back seat to other sports with a strange playoff system and lack of drama.
No instant replay
Officials are human and they make mistakes but Americans want the mistakes fixed if possible. Nearly every sports league in the USA uses some form of instant replay.
Americans would not stand for a team making the playoffs (in this case the World Cup) by a blatant handball. With all the advances in video replay and different camera angles would make it impossible for such a thing to exist in American sports.
There is no way we at this stage of our sporting lives can commit to a league or a sport that shuns replay. We want the outcome decided correctly and not from lack of replay but because of it.
Soccer add replay if you truly want Americans to watch your sport.
This is kind of nitpicking, but the lack of commercials hurt soccer in America. While Europe and the rest of world have built their sports watching in a pub form, America has not.
We have sports bars, but half the time you cannot even hear the game and sometimes cannot even find the game on that you want to watch. So we like to watch at home and even if we are at a sports bar, we want commercials.
Why do we want commercials? Well, so we can go to the bathroom and grab another beer.
We do not want to miss any of the action while the game is going on. So we really do not mind when a commercial comes on.
It gives us a chance to get food, drink and, bathroom breaks in. Soccer does not allow for that unless you can see a TV at all times.
Plus how else can you tell your wife you are going to do something at the next commercial break if there never is one. Then you have to listen to your wife nag and nag until you can get whatever she wants done, done.
It is not a huge deal but soccer would help its cause in America by adding a little commercial time during each half.
I personally like soccer and enjoy watching the sport every chance I get. That is as long as it does not interrupt my first love of football.
The World Cup is the second best world event to me behind the Olympics and I will watch every game. I have no agenda against the game of soccer.
I do recognize why the sport has not been able to take off in America. It is not because Americans hate the sport but because we dislike little things about the sport.
We do not dominate the sport or pose a realistic chance at winning major FIFA tournaments so Americans do not follow the sport as close as other sports. Look how well Americans follow baseball now that we are not a major world power.
The sport of soccer will continue to make slow growth but without minor tweaks it will never rise from the bottom of the sports landscape. It does not matter what aging star a MLS brings to America.