[Web Special] Why We Don't Catch Soccer Fever

Monday, June 29, 2009 - 05:59 AM

Bad news for all of you singing Ole Ole. Soccer – hell, that isn’t even the real name of the sport – is never going to be a big deal in the United States.

Why? Let me dive to the turf screaming and clutching my leg while I explain why.

“Major League Soccer” (MLS) isn’t major league. It isn’t even much of a minor league. Figure the English Premier League as the majors, along with La Liga in Spain. Italy and Germany would be the equivalent of Triple-A baseball. Holland, France, Brazil, Mexico, they’d be Double-A. The Central American leagues, Japan, they’d be Single-A. Then maybe put “major league soccer” in there at low Single-A. Do you think baseball would be successful in the USA if the best thing you could see was the Charleston Bats vs. the Asheville Tourists? Or hockey would work here if all we had to look forward to was the Fresno Falcons vs. the Long Beach Ice Dogs? A league whose champion couldn’t win a single game in the English Premier League is not going to excite the American imagination. The league is so bad that the best American players would rather sit on the bench for Hertha Berlin or Manchester City than play regularly for the San Jose Earthquakes or the Chicago Fire. (What? There’s no team called the New Orleans Katrinas?) ... (continue reading)

The competitive problem isn’t just on the field. Central American and Asian leagues have only baseball to contend with for the big-time sporting dollar, and in Europe, it’s just a half-assed basketball league and – what? Cycling? Rugby? In the U.S., the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL are undisputed leaders in their sports, marketing powerhouses with long traditions and passionate fans. It’d be tough for the MLS to break through even if its product was world class, or there wasn’t a tradition here of suburban boys and girls giving up the sport the minute they hit puberty.

There is a constituency for soccer here. Unfortunately, U.S. soccer authorities ignore it or actively try to avoid it. I speak, of course, of the millions of Americans of Central and South American descent. Soccer programs in the U.S. don’t put any effort in Latin communities to developing talent there. The U.S. national teams rarely have a significant Latin component and there has never been an American star of Latin descent.

Besides that –and this is almost beyond comprehension – the U.S. national team schedules its home games to avoid Latin attendance. Yes, you read that right. When the team plays at home against Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, etc., the games are held in places like Columbus and Boston. Places without large Latin-American communities. The theory is that we don’t want the stands packed with people rooting for the other team. Forget that many of those fans would be delighted to root for the American team, or that they could be won over. (The U.S. national team owns Mexico. Since the year 2000, the U.S. is 10-2-2 against El Tricolores.) Forget that these Latin-American fans have money that is just as green and just as nurturing of the sport as anybody else’s.

The MLS has made a few faltering efforts to involve Latin fans. Two teams in the league have Latin orientations. One is Chivas USA in Los Angeles, a pale (in every sense of the word) copy of its parent in Guadalajara. The team has only three Mexican nationals on its current roster and has never made it out of the first round of the MLS playoffs. The other Latin affinity team is a partner with European powerhouse Real Madrid. They’re located in – I swear I’m not making this up – Salt Lake City.

Then there’s the MLS schedule. Everywhere else in the world, the soccer season runs from August through May. Here, it’s June to November. American fans, the MLS contends, simply won’t tolerate the cold and wind and stuff, so the league plays a schedule that guarantees that no world class player will have anything to do with it and that every soccer fan (and FIFA, the governing body of soccer worldwide) thinks is bogus. It’d be like starting a baseball league and playing a schedule from September to February. How do you think a league like that would do competing with major league baseball?

That’s not to say there aren’t opportunities for soccer. Obviously, the Latin thing could be an opportunity instead of a failure, and no sport except hockey has as much to gain from the spread of high def TV as soccer does. If the leaders of the sport here in America do everything right, hey, I see a future in which American soccer is spoken of in the same breath as women’s college basketball or lacrosse. Ole!

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Comments [20]

Alberoni

I'm sorry but You are so Ignorant about Soccer!! let me tell you that you're going the wrong way! If Soccer isn't here what it is in the rest of the planet, it's because The Media they are like Prostitutes they do whatever they are ordered by the Big Mafia (MLB-NFL-NBA-NHL)how do you explain that they don't cover the Big Games that the US team had, last month?? if there are more than 20 MILLION!!!! american Official Active players in the USA!!! Are you so Ignorant and believe in that stupid Statement of :"Americans don't care about soccer" and about what you've wrote... "there has never been an American star of Latin descent." I didn't know that Tab Ramos, Claudio Reina,Carlos Bocanegra,Marcelo Balboa,Fernando Clavijo, Where all Asians, Africans!! and also don't be ignorant and say that there weren't Asian because there was an exellent player named Mark Chang and he really was from asia parents. what pisses me off!! is that I waisted my time, reading and writing in this nonsense

Jul. 20 2009 05:36 PM
ibrahim

I just want to say that i too posted on Soccer in the USA and it was linked here: http://www.thetakeaway.org/stories/2009/jun/26/web-special-will-soccer-arrive-its-already-here/

much love to the Futbol heads!

Jun. 29 2009 09:56 PM
Sgc

MLS is probably better than any Central American league. Most of those leagues have about two decent teams at the top, with little competition from the rest (in most seasons). MLS could stack the deck for the CCL too if it put all the all-stars on one team.

Jun. 28 2009 12:34 PM
Lars

MLS is certainly not better than all the Central American leagues, how many MLS teams advanced to the Quarterfinals of CCL? (Hint: One) How many to the Semis? USL proved they can go toe to toe, but MLS has proven nothing.

Superliga is a joke on top of that. If you're going to defend the Beautiful game (which I suggest you do because it rocks) learn a few things. Superliga is a tournament played between Mexican Reserves and Under-18 Players vs Not quite good MLS teams (the four that didn't qualify for Champions League). On top of that, every game is a home game for the American sides..

Jun. 28 2009 10:20 AM
Brian

If this sport will be "spoken of in the same breath as women’s college basketball or lacrosse" why even bother to write an article on its failure? Just let it fail... By the way, any lacrosse teams whose average attendance is higher than the LA Lakers? LA Galaxy's average attendande for the last four years has been higher the the Lakers's.

Jun. 28 2009 01:19 AM
Jeff Beresford-Howe

The MLS schedule does in fact start in March, rather than June, as I stated. I had it right in my first draft and then somehow screwed it up later. My apologies.

Jun. 27 2009 08:19 PM
Paul Cat

Same useless dribble I've been reading about soccer since the 1970s. This writer is living in a shell.

Jun. 27 2009 05:42 PM
Vnice

Unreal...

First off, the rest of the world does NOT play that calendar. That calendar is a western European one.

Secondly, players from around the world, coaches and soccer journalists would all put MLS on par with a number of bigger leages, such as Coca Cola Championship, and second division Bundasliga. And FIFA says MLS is the top flight here...so, how is MLS not major?

Third...you're clueless. Get a real job.

Jun. 27 2009 04:13 PM
Jeff

Nobody cares what you have to say and we are frankly all tired of people like you with the need to denigrate a sport that everybody around the world loves. Why don't you spend your time waxing poetic instead about golf which is a real waste of time.

Jun. 27 2009 08:02 AM
Dirk

Just some minor comments:
1-The Season starts in March and goes through to November and not June to November.
2-MLS level is better than any Central American league; just see the results of club-level CONCACAF competitions. Do you know who the current Superliga champion is?
3-There have been several stars of Latin descent in the MNT, current captain and solid defender Carlos Bocanegra, just to mention one.
4-Soccer is for the Latin community only? Have you seen the Seattle Sounders or Real Salt Lake crowds?

Do you call yourself a sports journalist?

Jun. 27 2009 12:20 AM
Jonathan

This his hogwash. Football played with a round ball and played with the has been around since the 1600s. The first intercollegiate football game on November 7, 1869 in New Brunswick, NJ between Princeton and Rutgers (Rutgers won 6-4). This game used the London Football Association's 1863 rules (soccer). Soccer was as popular as baseball in the 1920s and early 1930s. The United States played and came in 3rd in the first World Cup in 1930. In the 1930s there were two completing leagues who failed during the great depression so this country was without professional soccer for nearly 40 years. .

Jun. 27 2009 12:17 AM
Lars

Just in addition to what I wrote earlier:

It's clear you're a bitter baseball fan, embarrassed by the fact that the Seattle Mariners couldn't sell as many season tickets as Sounders FC could...

Jun. 26 2009 05:59 PM
JR

Do you even bother checking your facts before you make them up?

Jun. 26 2009 04:22 PM
Jason

I had to look at the byline again to make sure it wasn't written by Jay Mariotti or Tony Kornheiser.

Same tripe, different writer.

Jun. 26 2009 04:03 PM
Jeremy Black

"The U.S. national teams rarely have a significant Latin component and there has never been an American star of Latin descent."

Really? Hugo Perez, Tab Ramos, Marcelo Balboa, Claudio Reyna, current captain Carlos Bocanegra... those guys aren't among the biggest stars in the history of the U.S. Men's National Team?

Beyond that, a number of guys on the team have Latin heritage... Bornstein (Mexican mother, I think), Feilhaber (Brazilian mother), Mastroeni (born in Argentina), Orozco, Torres...

Jun. 26 2009 01:56 PM
chica

The USA just played a World Cup Qualifier against Honduras in Chicago which has a HUGE latino population....

Jun. 26 2009 10:41 AM
Pyro

As far as quality is concerned, Juan Carlos Osorio (coach of the NY Red Bulls for the moment and onetime coach at Manchester City) has stated that the quality of the majority of MLS'teams (since there is such parity in the league unlike most Euro leagues) is on par with the non-top 5 teams in the English Premier League. But, you probably know more since you just trot out this tripe anytime soccer takes another foothold in the U.S.

Jun. 26 2009 10:25 AM
Sgc

Anyone who read this article is dumber for having read it.

First, the author commits the fallacy of assuming the point that is to be proven--i.e. that whatever happens to be true today will stay true. Instead of making a case that things must stay as they are (the one thing we know about the future is that things don't tend to stay as they are), he casually assumes it.

Second, he grossly exaggerates the way they are today. "Minor Leagues" as you know them, don't have anyone on the payroll who makes high six to low seven figures. They don't have teams that draw 20,000 to 30,000 fans a game.

In soccer the terms "major" and "minor league" don't even exist as such--that's an Americanism. There are just varying standards of wealth and professionalism. Nobody has declared MLS to be AAA and that it must stay there. If more money is made, the league's standard will grow (and frankly, anyone paying attention can see the league's balance books and standard have already been growing).

Jun. 26 2009 10:08 AM
Angel

We understand you don't care about the sport and its progress. That was tried and it failed right away. So, we are moving along. Our success will be regardless of your effort to stop it. Or regardless of your inclination to fix it. We don't care about what the rest of America think anymore. But our door is wide open to those who want to give our sport a chance of enjoying its nuances. You have a blind eye to the big step that the US man national team just had in one of the biggest stage of the world, outside of the bubble where you find your info of course, because you call also "world" to any champ out of your borders and Canada, but that is your bubble and your imaginations or what the media and corporations dictate you to believe. We can live without your comments and despite of the constant repetition of the same kind of criticism that your kind of writers write trying to undermine our sport.
So, there you have it. Just go on with your life,and don't talk about soccer.

Jun. 26 2009 08:47 AM
Lars

First of all, you have little to no understanding of major league soccer. It doesn't actually promote itself as a top flight division. It encourages it's fans to keep cheering for their top side teams in Europe.

As for Latin fans - As with Canada, the US deals with the problem of Latin fans cheering for Central American sides over the home team. The Honduras home game in Montreal for Canada is a perfect example of this.

Your point about the MLS Schedule is a flat out lie. The Season started in March and goes through to November. Do you even bother checking your facts before you make them up? It's interesting that you point out FIFA thinks its bogus even though leagues like Sweden and Russia run on this schedule as well. Of course, nobody bitches about that, because they don't speak english. FIFA is against english speakers.

Jun. 26 2009 08:05 AM

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