Let me start out by saying that I love soccer. Immediately that makes me the minority in the United States, but on a global scale I am in the majority. Why is this? Why is the global majority...the national minority?
There are two major reasons. Both cultural and both almost taboo for an American like myself to say. But I am saddened to say that it is true.
Problem One: Laziness
Americans have gotten progressively lazier in the last generation. In fact, they have even gotten lazy at leisure times. We cannot watch 45 minutes of continuous action (length of a half in soccer); we need unnatural stoppages.
The NFL is much easier on the eye given the average length of a play is about six seconds, and after every play there is a stoppage where the play is over-examined from camera angles and telestrators.
Each play guarantees something from a tackle to a touchdown, giving it an element of drama. Then there is the television timeout which allows us to relax after an intense three-and-out and watch Jimmy Football and his new "Tailgate Tested, Tailgate Approved" item. Then we resume with either a landscape of the city the game is in or a scantily-clad cheerleader. And then we repeat for another three to six hours.
The NBA is not much better given that every 24 seconds there is a scoring chance. We watch perpetual scoring and salivate over a crossover leading to what comes down to in most cases a negligible basket, as games are rarely decided by three points or less.
Players become immortalized by the clothing line or sneaker they help create and market, by the rap song that mentions them as a metaphor, and by expert marketing by the NBA. This makes it easy for the American fan to watch since we can just fixate on Kobe or LeBron like a baby watching cartoons.
Long story short, we are too lazy to enjoy the whole game non-stop. We're discreetly thankful for the TV timeout. Or we simply look to watch one player in hopes of saying I was watching when he puts in an exceptional performance.
We don't focus on the broad scope of the game, the other players who don't have the ball, the atmosphere, and the build-up of a scoring chance.
However, a soccer fan does focus on each thing. The off ball runs into space that make that pass into nowhere suddenly lead to a goal. The man coming from nowhere to put in a diving header to score. The defender on the line clearing away a potential goal.
We notice the crowd. From You'll Never Walk Alone to I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles, the 12th man is seen and felt, not commercialized. We notice how it is the youthful joy of thousands that make a goal magical. The witty ad-libbed songs to honor our heroes and mock our villains.
We notice how it is the pass, not the shot, that leads to glory. How passes along the ground begin a magical chain that leads to a goal. We know that the beauty is in the patience; art isn't just made, the artist takes time and slowly but surely the masterpiece comes together and we applaud it.
Problem Two: Ethnocentrism
We are ethnocentric. In the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL we witness the best players in the world play on a nightly basis. In soccer we see a few of the better, but not best, play in the US. In fact, the best Americans don't play here, save Landon Donovan (though he just accepted a loan to Everton).
We are not motivated to watch the MLS since the best players are not there. There is only a minority of fans who will choose to get up on a Saturday morning and watch European action, mostly through online feeds, as there are only two channels that normally broadcast more than one game a day.
It's simple: Since we are not the best...we don't care.
Don't believe me? Look at the crowds that watched the NASL in the '70s. Giants Stadium was filled not just because of Pele but because of Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberta, Chinaglia, and Neeskins. Four of those five were World Cup finalists; only Neeskins would leave the Final trophy-less. They were the best players and they were not only limited to the Cosmos.
Rodney Marsh played for Tampa Bay, Gordon Banks for Fort Lauderdale, Gerd Muller, too, and the list goes on and on. In that time soccer ruled the land simply because we had the best and most accomplished players. But as the NASL died so did American interest as the best players stayed in Europe, and they still stay today.
We need to learn that you don't need the best players to make a game enjoyable. We need to learn that just because there is no scoring chance that doesn't mean it is boring. We need to see that soccer is not for a select few, but for all. We only need two feet and a ball. We need to stand up and appreciate the beautiful game.