Why America Hates Soccer

Previously I wrote something to the effect that soccer will never really gain acceptance in America. I should have prefaced that thought by saying that I think soccer will never really gain acceptance in America under it's current condition.

It's not so much that the US Men's National Team (MNT) isn't good, well that is part of it, but it's more than that. And to be quite honest I don't think that the average Joe in America realizes all that is going on with his dismay, nay his dislike, nay his very hatred of all things futbol. So let's take a look at the pathology of this ailment which afflicts my fellow Americans, and maybe perhaps some potential remedies, if any, that may exist.

I first noticed this hatred of soccer by my fellow Americans as a child. I grew up in a small town in the American midwest. Baseball, football and basketball were king, all other sports were for the kids who couldn't play these titans of recreation. But the disdain for soccer, well that was reserved a special place hovering somwhere below Ptolomæa, yet not quite in Judecca (hint: Culpepper minus the 'u'). In fact, I think the most common phrase I heard concerning the nature of soccer during the 1980's was "that's a damned COMMUNIST sport boy".

And yet, even in 1994 when the USA was fortunate enough to have hosted a World Cup, Americans really could have cared less. Being an eternal optimist though, I blame that more on some boring-ass ride in a white bronco that just happened to occur one day after the games began. Coincidence? I think not.

My point is that not that Americans don't like soccer. It's that there is some cosmic force which is using a series of coincidences that use people like Gorbechev and Simpson to spoil what will ultimately triumph in America: futbol. Ok, I'm obviously joking. Soccer will never triumph. And the real reason it will never triumph is that the US will never really be better than the rest of the world at it. And Americans, consciously or not, know that all too well……and they can't stand it.

Just this week ESPN did a poll asking Americans how far they thought the MNT would go in the World Cup Finals in Germany (set to start in just under 9 hours). The response? A paltry 26% said "not past the group round". Another 25% said to the "round of 16". Only 11% thought we would win. God love the grandma's and the delusional of the world. I just didn't know they made up 11% of the population.

But seriously, the 26% are probably the ones who are right, although they don't know why they're right. You see, most of those 26% are the same guys (or their kids) who told kids like me that soccer was communist. They are the same ones who let their kids play the sport until they're 10, but then it's time to sit down for the "come to Jesus" talk on why they need to pick a real sport. But as ignorant as those people are, they're still probably right. The Americans, despite growing by leaps and bounds in terms of our national store of soccer talent, just still can't cut it as a squad against the best in the world.

And even more disturbing about the poll mentioned is the disdain in the voices of the announcers talking about it. If I were blind I would have been able to hear the droplets of seething and anger beading up on their foreheads. They can't stand being forced to talk about soccer, not because it cuts into Baseball Tonight: with Peter "I'm Still Relevant" Gammons, but because they really and truly believe that anyone who plays soccer must naturally be (by the laws of American superiority) a loser who couldn't play baseball, basketball or football.

So why won't Americans ever be better than everyone else in the world in regards to soccer? Well, let's look at some other sports to see if we can spot a pattern which naturally introduces greatness in sports into a given population. First example: baseball. Granted, baseball is the "American past-time", so naturally we should be good at it. Ok, I'll give you that. But think back to the generations of kids who grew up playing baseball in make-shift sandlots, parking lots, backyards, cul-de-sacs and any other place you could make room to throw down 3 cans as bases and an old towel for home plate. They lived the game. They breathed the game. The talent pool from which to choose was so vaste that some of the greatest ballplayers the world will ever see, well….were in fact seen. Had baseball been treated like soccer in America, the Dodgers would be named the Clintons and to be called a "Yankee fan" would be fightin words in more than just just the Deep South.

Need another example? Ok, let's switch tracks and look at the Olympics, the cornucopia of irrelevant sports, in particular women's gymnastics. One word: Romania. The women of Romania sign contracts for the daughters in their womb, literally turning over their firstborn to the House of Bela. They're good cause the kids never have a chance to think they aren't. Again, for whatever reason(s), they live and breathe the sport from a very early age.

Yet another example, basketball. American basketball players are so amazingly dominant because in the inner cities of America you can have no food, no clothes and no hope….but you always have basketball. It's a way of life.

Perhaps a personal story might help you understand if you're still lost at this point. I've travelled to Peru a few times for mission work with my church. Now I've played soccer since I was about 4. I played on travelling, select and club teams since I was 12. I was one of the top 5 in both scoring and assists class 4A in high school. I could have had a moderate career at a Division II college playing the game, but for reasons that aren't germane to the discussion I chose not to. The point isn't that I'm good, it's that I'm far above average for Americans. And yet when I go to Peru there are consistently a new batch of 8 year olds who make me look silly. I grew up playing on turf, with shoes and shinguards and coaches and balls that are truly round and roll true. They grew up playing in the sand and dirt, with bare feet and rabid stray dogs and dozens of other dirty barefoot kids trying to kick at the "ball" made of 200 plastic bags tied together. There is no comparison, none.

And yet somehow, some way the Americans this year are ranked 4th in the world. Ranked 4th among hundreds of nations who want to be in Germany this month. Ranked 4th among 32 nations who have made it through the year and a half long qualifying gauntlet. Ranked 4th among dozens of men who more often than not grew up dirty footed, distancing themselves from the countless masses in their home towns, states, nations…..all of whom breathed the sport themselves. Somehow the Americans have broken through. And IF the Americans can get to the final four teams, the finals, or even…..well, I won't even dare say it. IF we can do that, perhaps the titans of recreation will add another member to its fold. A sport worthy of living and breathing for our own youth. And if that happens, the world had better get ready…..because when Americans do finally take hold of something, they rarely let go and their dominance is unparalleled.

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13 Comments

Filed under Soccer, Sport, World Cup 2006

13 responses to “Why America Hates Soccer

  1. Chris

    What you fail to realise is that in the rest of the world the very fact that the US is ranked 4th is used as the ultimate evidence that the system which produces the rankings is useless.

  2. And I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that sentiment. The whole notion that one can get a good idea of “team rankings” within the WCF 32 teams based on play in qualifiers where the roster changes daily.

    However, I will say that having watched the US team from 1990 to the present, they are considerably better and so I would hesitate to write off any bump in the status of the US team as merely faulty rankings alone.

  3. Hi leading,

    you misread my post on Zidane… I was not whining: I am truly saddened by the end of his career. I know these things happen in soccer, only too bad it happened at the last game of the great career of Zizou…

  4. angelo

    dude. hate is a big word. america just needs to understand the game a little bit more, and pick up on the pace and concept of the game. that’s all.

    • Bob

      Pace? Pace? What pace? If you’re waiting for a goal…soccer, pardon me, futbol, is like watching paint dry. That is EXACTLY why America “dislikes” soccer/futbol. It fails to stimulate our extremely active neurons.

      Seriously… I’d rather sit at a 3-day insurance seminar than to watch even 10 minutes of a soccer game.

      • Why does a team have to score before it becomes entertaining?? Is there not still real competition?? Fast paced competition I might add. I don’t think a sport’s entertainment value should be defined by how often a team scores, but rather the skill and effort required to do so. For me it’s BECAUSE scoring is so difficult in soccer that the game is most engaging. How exciting is it to watch a basketball game where nearly every trip or at least every other trip down the court equals 2 or 3 points scored. Talk about boring! Is there really any sense of achievement with that? Our society is so ADD these days it’s shameful…

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  7. matt

    I live in the south and I can never wait for the world cup to come around, but I’m alone in this. Every Friday night, all of my friends and I go out to the football field to watch the game that everyone in my high school goes to. Every five seconds, all the players have to line up again and for such a fast-paced country, I can’t imagine why they are obsessed with such a slow moving sport.

    I had the opportunity to take pictures of the soccer team for the school yearbook. I went to all of their games and each of them was so much more exciting than the football games. Yet I was one of about 20 people in the stands, most of the parents of the players. Compare that to the 600 that typically show up for football games. It’s sad that such an exciting sport is shunned by most of the country.

    I really think Americans could be great at soccer if we put as much enthusiasm into it as we do into football.

  8. CCR

    You are right. I have seen kids in Brazil playing in the favela shantytowns (built on hillsides) with balls made of old rags, everyone plays barefoot, the “field” is a cobblestone street inclined on a 20 degree angle, the goal is defined by two tomato cans filled with stones or dirt. Once I saw two good friends, one rich, the other poor. The rich kid got two soccer shoes for Christmas. They decided to share them. Since one of them was a leftie, he wore the left shoe, the other sported the right shoe. Watching those two kids play with all their heart, I understood why Brazil produced most of the greatest soccer players of all time. That also explains why Dominican and Cuban boys that grew up playing baseball with a stick for a bat and a raw potato for a ball, can become better players than all those American kids that grew up pampered with the best equipment. Humanity grows from below. Take for example jazz (arguably the reason why this country’s culture is going to be remembered) Jazz is a product of marginal, dirt-poor people: Africans, Jews, originally and then poor immigrants of all nations. Jazz was not invented by the Vanderbilts or the Rockefellers.

  9. Hey, I just wanted to say what a quality website. I thoroughly enjoyed it and found it interesting reading. Anticipating your next post!

  10. I don’t think its so much Americans HATE soccer its just that they have other sports they prefer like Basketball, American football, Ice hockey etc. Nice post.

  11. nick

    I love baseball, and sometimes there is no score till the 9th inning. I asked a friend of mine, who is from the Dominican Republic, why she prefers baseball to soccer, and she said “soccer is just people running up and down a field non-stop”. No anticipation or tenseness that Americans like. I think people like basketball and hockey because the playing field is smaller, and as for (American) football, people like the “strategy” involved. All of these sports use the hands, not the feet

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