2010 FIFA World Cup: Why Americans Don't Care About Soccer
Up until this weekend I would never have considered myself a soccer fan. I dedicated my free time to watching what I called "real sports," such as baseball, basketball, and football. Much to my surprise, I found myself genuinely entertained by the World Cup. When the Cup ends I intend to throw myself into the Premier League and Champions League. I can't help it. I think I have become a soccer fan.
If my soccer fever does not wane I will be a rare American. While the rest of world's sporting habits revolve around soccer, Americans have remained indifferent. In a nation where multiple sporting events are televised at any given time, why has soccer failed to attract a following?
In their first game of the World Cup, America tied a heavily favored England 1-1. A strong showing paired with goalkeeper Robert Green's butterfingers have a lot of people excited about U.S. soccer. If America continues to play well, a lot of people will assume soccer will become a fixture in the United States athletic community. They will be wrong.
Soccer's popularity in the states is not about Americans playing soccer. The sport's future success is about soccer played in America. Sports fans in the U.S. don't necessarily need to cheer for their fellow countrymen. Baseball, America's pastime, is full of international players. Somehow I doubt St. Louis Cardinals fans hold Albert Pujols' nationality against him. Being born in the Dominican Republic has not kept Pujols from being one of the most popular ball players of his generation.
European players, such as Dirk Nowitzki, have been all stars in the NBA. American born players are minority in the NHL. Baseball, basketball, and hockey succeed in America because the best players play in America. If the NFL experienced a sudden influx of international players, I doubt the television ratings would suffer.
It is a well known fact that the best soccer is not played in America. Sure, David Beckham created a buzz when he came across the pond, but he was just one player. Seeing the best player in the world is more meaningful if he is going up against the best competition. Imagine if LeBron James decided to play in Europe. After the initial shock waves, would anyone care? It would be like Albert Pujols spending the rest of his career in double A.
The highest quality soccer is not played in America. Soccer puts Americans in position that they are not used to: following their athletes overseas. In a way, it is a humbling experience. Americans do not want to follow their soccer players the way Chinese basketball fans followed Yao Ming to Houston. We want to watch games at convenient times, be able to drive to the stadium, and have highest quality of play on our shores.
America does not need to do well in the World Cup for soccer to become a major sport. We don't need to produce the next Pele. What we need is to have the best players in the world come here as they do in every other major sport. It is highly unlikely that the MLS would be able to accomplish this.
The beauty of the situation is that we don't need an entire league to be the best. America just needs one club to compete in a prestigious league abroad. If New York had a team that was successful in the Premier League Americans would pay attention. It wouldn't matter if every player was born somewhere outside of the States.
I don't know if that will ever happen. I'm by no means an expect on the Premier League. I don't know if it would even be possible to have an American team play in England's greatest league. Obviously transatlantic travel would present a logistical challenge. Here is what I do know: It would be a major event if Manchester United played a New York team in New York. Americans would start following the sport.
The MLS will never be a destination league. Owners of MLS clubs cannot afford to lure the world's best players to the States. Getting one or two marquee players is not enough. America needs a team to compete at the highest level.
I am looking forward to watching as much of the World Cup as I can. After its conclusion, I hope I will find the same joy in watching the European leagues. I just hope that one day the best soccer will be played on American soil.
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