Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Why Soccer Will Never Catch On in the U.S.

A tragedy occurred this week... Cuahtemoc Blanco, a forward for Club America and the Mexican National Team (and also my favorite soccer player) signed a contract to play for the Chicago Fire of the MLS. The contract will have Blanco playing for club through 2009. Blanco plays for my favorite soccer team, Club America of the Mexican Soccer Federation. He has been one of my favorite players for years now and it's a shame to see him leave to another team.

Some of you might have heard of another high profile player to sign a contract to play for an MLS team recently. David Beckham will play with the Los Angeles Galaxy in July after his contract with Real Madrid expires this summer. Beckham is more well-known than Blanco but both are good players that should boost their teams. Beckham's signing sparked national media attention for about a good 2 days. It was all over ESPN and it was even discussed on the ESPN programs Around the Horn and PTI. Blanco's signing received much more subdued media coverage for obvious reasons. The news was broken during the same time as the start of the MLB season as well as Florida's crowning as repeat NCAA Basketball Champions. Also, most of the U.S. was probably asking themselves, "Who or what the fuck is Cuahtemoc Blanco?"

Both of these signings would have been the top stories of the week in any other country. I'm not just talking about sports news either. I mean front page headlines type of stuff. There would have been front page headlines in national newspapers, dozens of related articles scattered around the news as well as public excitement for these signings. Maybe Blanco's signing wouldn't be as celebrated, but Beckham's signing would have given the entire nation a giant chubby.

This is the state of soccer here in the U.S. No one really gives a rat's ass about what happens in soccer. For one thing, a lot of people don't follow soccer and the media considers soccer an afterthought, just ask Jim Rome, a professed "hater" of soccer. While millions of kids play youth soccer and will continue their love of the game, soccer doesn't become a headline unless it's a World Cup year. The World Cup is about the only time soccer is shown or given extensive coverage on the major networks. Sure, ESPN2 shows the Champions League but you usually have to subscribe to a premium cable or satellite package to get full soccer coverage from around the world.

The reasons why soccer will never catch on in mainstream America is because we focus on every other sport. Football, basketball and baseball are the heavyweights. Those sports have the best American athletes. They offer the most lucrative marketing and profit shares here in the U.S. and they have become a part of our very lives (just ask any contributer of this blog). Soccer will remain an afterthought in the U.S. until the media gives it the same attention. Media coverage, coupled with a massive advertising and player signings will make soccer a little more bearable for the average American fan. The U.S. will remain a stranger to the "beautiful game" until the best athletes are picking up the sport and Major League Soccer stops making their stadiums sound like a giant shopping center... i.e. Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Home Depot Center and my favorite, Pizza Hut Park. While other countries have rich soccer stadium tradition such as the Estadio Azteca in Mexico, the Maracana in Brazil or Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge in England, we have Pizza Hut Park.... holy fuck.

I think David Beckham and Cuahtemoc Blanco's signings are a step forward in making the MLS into less of a joke. I doubt they will be able to make soccer into the phenomenon it is in other countries though. The league needs more than two soccer figures to give it a pulse. A league expansion, more lucrative contracts and the need for better American soccer players will start the ball rolling on making the MLS into a competitive soccer league and the legitimacy of U.S. soccer. Just imagine how sick the U.S. National Team would be if athletes such as Reggie Bush, Ed Reed, LeBron James and Maurice Green played soccer... and they were coached by Bill Parcells... with Pete Carroll as assistant....


mel kiper fan said...

Though soccer will never be the top sport in America, it can certainly become popular. Would anyone have guessed that basketball would have caught on in soccer dominated Europe. In fact, the #1 pick in last year's NBA Draft came from Italy, the country that just won the World Cup last summer. During the cup, the host nation Germany had one of its own, Dirk Nowitzki, leading the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA Finals. A key member on the Phoenix Suns, Leandro Barbosa, is from Brazil, so you know he has a soccer background, but he chose to play basketball instead. The same Phoenix Suns team has a former Canadian national soccer all-star, Steve Nash. There's enough of an audience to attract, and with these mega-signings in the MLS, the fan base can only grow. Soccer will never be the #1 sport in our country but, but I believe that it can be about as popular as basketball is overseas. In the end, fans will follow winners. American sports fans are bandwagon fans, so people (and money) will always follow a winner.

RG3 said...

Andrea Bargnani is an asshole.

Joey said...

America tends to be very intolerable of other people and other things, not just soccer. Its unfortunate, but if America was as passionate about soccer as they are about real football, then maybe they might be better. But in any case, thats no to say that America is the best at everything they put their mind to. (See: The Alamo, Vietnam, etc) Now that is being ethnocentric, but soccer will always be backdoor to football, basketball, even baseball.

The U.S. could have an all world soccer team and nobody would give a shit, especially during March Madness, or even the World Cup. I can never see my Dad cracking open a budweiser and watching Landon Donovan play. That would be the fuckin day. Perhaps it will be a generation or two from now when soccer is fully integrated into our culture. Then maybe there can be an argument.