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....