What Will It Take?

This is the question that has plagued American soccer for its’ existence. What will it take to truly transform this country into a soccer-crazed nation? It is a legitimate question when you consider just how improved this country’s national team is since 1990.

In that time, we have gone to six straight World Cups and have advanced to the knockout stages half of those occasions. In that time, we have a winning record against CONCACAF giants and rival Mexico. What more can you ask for right now? Plain and simple, if you didn’t get it yesterday than I’m not sure there’s any hope.

To be fair, the South and Alabama (as much as I love both), are a poor representation of “soccer nation” here in the States.  My problem with this is the fact that soccer embodies everything we Americans love about sports – athleticism, and most importantly, the passion and hatred it evokes on and off the field are truly unparalleled to any American sport (the passion and hatred aspects anyway).

Most people just don’t give it a chance. There is this nationalist attitude toward soccer that is pretty embarrassing on a global level. We are a nation with 300 million people, but the nation has yet to be truly captivated by the sport. Here is a Facebook status update from an unnamed friend after our victory yesterday: “I would rather watch bowling from 1976 than watch the World Cup.” Give me a f**king break. This same person is a good example of why it’s hard to envision the game really catching on with all sports fans. He follows other sports, and NASCAR might be his favorite, but yet soccer is too boring?

Let’s get this straight – how can watching cars turn left for four straight hours possibly be construed as entertaining? I hate the boring argument that comes with soccer.  As much as I love American football, the amount of game time you actually see is mind boggling. When you exclude down time and commercials, the Super Bowl had a total of 12 minutes of true action.

It is great to see more interest in our team as a result of yesterday’s victory, but how can it continue? It would seem as if we almost have to get to the semis for that to happen, given it didn’t take off with a quarters exit in 2002. Would that even do it though?

One of the best attributes of our squad is that we play well in unfriendly environments. When we play teams like Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico in home World Cup Qualifiers the fans are nearly split. The venues are sold out, but for example Soldier Field in Chicago hosted about 35,000 Hondurans and about 35,000 Americans. With a nation of 300 million, we can surely enjoy the home field advantage that nearly every other FIFA-affiliated country creates in qualifying. The U.S. Soccer Federation is apprehensive to have qualifiers in the South (where there are less of the Latin contingent in big cities) where lackluster crowds in Nashville and Birmingham in 2004 and 2009 give them no incentive to come back to the South. And then there is the very poor support for southern MLS teams like FC Dallas, which do nothing to help this region’s cause. Our supporters’ section with both the American Outlaws and Sam’s Army is very strong though, regardless of where the game is played. It’s really all about swaying the apathetic.

The major point is that our product on the field deserves to have that home field advantage wherever they play. The fact that almost all of our national team-quality players now play in quality European leagues is the best indication of our progress on the pitch. Even many young stars like Mikkel Disserud that aren’t getting a whiff at the national team are playing overseas. There are good ones here in the States as well, like Luis Gil and Jack McInerney, and we’ve seen the MLS at-large have great attendance numbers this year. Maybe that’s a strong indication of the game’s growth in many cities, but certainly not areas like this one. It doesn’t help when you have guys like Jim Rome who only point out some melee in Ecuador as the only relevant soccer news.

I think any rational sports fan who sat down to watch the game thoroughly would  appreciate it, but instead,  it’s just not given a chance.  So once again, until that attitude that soccer is a “communist game”, or “everyone else in the world’s game”, I don’t think soccer will have that nation-wide staying power we’re capable of delivering.  It’s already there in major cities, but that’s it.

Unfortunately, the players have the pressure of having to pull a minor miracle to create that staying power in smaller markets. Nothing short of one will create the atmospheres fans and the players crave and deserve.

It’s time people. Get with the rest of the world more than one month out of every 48.

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