Friday, June 23, 2006

We're here to stay

(Note: Yes, I still write posts here. In fact, I wrote one today. Check it out. Also, due to the track meet, there was no 11 am airraid today. On the other hand, please enjoy another good post by guest blogger Jim. -- Torporindy)

So my last guest post was a bit gloomy. This time, I’m here to ask you to always look on the bright side of life.

At 12:00 p.m. on Thursday, two questions were being asked by Americans who watched the U.S. National Soccer team get booted from the World Cup after losing to Ghana 2-1:

From people who follow soccer only during the World Cup: With a country as rich and powerful as the United States, how could we lose to Ghana? In other words, why do we suck at soccer?

From people who are out-of-their-mind soccer fanaticos like me: Is this the end of soccer in this country?

As for the first question: read USA Today’s Soccer Sweep blog posting on the subject, which you may access here. The piece is by Beau Dure, who has been following the sport for a long time and has a lot of valid things to say.

As for the second question – Well, Beau touches on that too, but I’d like to expand on that and emphasize the one huge positive from this World Cup. As Beau notes, soccer in this country will be fine. And I’m here to say why that is:

There is finally a growing group of fans of the sport in this country (hell, even in this state)—passionate, knowledgeable fans. More fans than I can ever remember. And I’m not just talking about the “oh, I’ll pay attention only once every four years when the World Cup rolls around” crowd. They’re the exception to the norm in my experience. No, I’m talking about people who can name all 23 members on the U.S. team and the professional clubs where those players play when they’re not with the U.S. team. I’m talking about people who know that the Chicago Fire isn’t just a sad event in the city’s history. I’m talking about people who know that England’s best player isn’t David Beckham (it’s Steven Gerrard). I’m talking about people who know the lyrics to Clint Dempsey’s hip-hop opus, “Don’t Tread” (okay, I’m kidding on that last one).

I went to two venues – Radio Radio and Brugge Brasserie – to take in the U.S. games during this tournament. At both places, I met more soccer fans than ever before. The crowds at Radio Radio, in particular, were sizeable. At Thursday’s match, there had to be at least 100, if not more, watching the game. So even though the team’s performance on the pitch made me depressed, the number of fans out to watch the games—again, fans who are really into the sport—made me smile.

In addition, more Americans attended this World Cup than any other. Thousands of Americans turned out to watch each of the U.S.’s matches, which is a far cry from the 1990 World Cup, when the only Americans in attendance were the families of the players. What’s more, our fans in Germany finally behaved like real, passionate soccer fans. ESPN’s Michael Davies, who is currently blogging from Germany during the Cup, had this astute observation about our fans after the game on Thursday:

This World Cup might represent the end of an era, the Arena era, but it's the beginning in many ways. The World religion has arrived. The Internet has been the perfect vehicle to spread the gospel and feed the faithful. The U.S. fans have behaved just like fans from other countries. They've traveled here in numbers. Chanted the chants. Sung the songs. And got behind their team when they needed them, even in this crappy atmosphere-killing stadium today.

It’s the dawn of a new era in U.S. Soccer. Bruce Arena will likely, and justifiably, be fired, or he’ll resign on his own volition (I think that the latter scenario is more likely). A new coach will come in, one who will hopefully bring more flair to the team. New players will enter the national team pool. Perhaps even the overhyped Freddy Adu will live up to his potential. MLS will continue to grow. More of our players will go overseas to ply their trade. More kids will be used to seeing soccer on television and in person. In short, more Americans will come to appreciate the game on their own terms, which is the way that it should be.

As the old saying goes, change is good. And some big changes are about to happen in U.S. Soccer.



Blogger torporific said...

Now, I can't stop whistling "always look on the bright side of life".

June 23, 2006  
Blogger John B. said...

I just don't see soccer growing as a spectator sport here in the US...not to the level of even hockey, and certainly not on par with the 'big 3' of football, baseball, and basketball. I am not sure soccer can even eclipse tennis or golf as far as TV ratings.

My kids are a great example...all 3 play or played soccer extensively in school, along with Little League and other sports.

I'll bet that none of them can name more than 5 soccer players and maybe 3 MSL teams...but they can name at least half a dozen or more players from any of the 'big 3' sports teams.

Adult friends the same way, soccer just isn't followed by most people with the fervor that other sports are.

Maybe this is just clouded personal expereience, but I rarely see soccer highlights on the news or sports channels, exception being the World Cup.

I am not a 'soccer hater' (see my blog for my thoughts on the sport), but I do find it to be a boring spectator sport. I have watched the sport at all levels, grade school thru pro, and have watched with people who 'know and love' the sport...I like most other Americans just don't see the joy in the sport spectator wise. I suspect that I am not alone in this...

To each their own...I don't begrudge soccer fans their sport, I just don't see the growth occuring with the average sports fan on the street.

June 23, 2006  
Blogger torporific said...

This is no surprise. I hated to see him go out like he did.

Reyna retires from US team

June 23, 2006  
Anonymous Michelle said...

I am of course disappointed by the way this Cup went for us but the tournament itsefl has been worderful for US soccer fans. More and more venues are showing the matches, more and more people are watching, and at least some of the news media are having intellegent coverage. It's a step forward for soccer fans in the U.S.

Soccer will never compete with the big 3 in terms of fan base in the U.S. but it doesn't have to.

June 23, 2006  
Blogger mike said...

steve gerrard? seems like an awfully biased opinion to me.

i'll take wayne rooney, or maybe even joe cole, even though i hate chelsea.

the correct answer is probably frank lampard. or wayne bridge (I wonder who he played for?)

June 23, 2006  
Blogger Jim said...

John - You're missing my point. No American soccer fan would ever claim that the sport will eclipse any of the big American sports. Most of us accept that, at most, the sport will continue to be a niche sport in our lifetimes.

That being said, the number of fans of the sport has grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade. A lot of this is due to the availability of soccer news on the internet and to the growing availability of the game on cable and satellite television. There are now three channels that are devoted to soccer that you can get on most cable and satellite systems, and all are doing quite well. It's a soccer fan's dream.

What's more, I want to emphasize that you have to come to the sport on your own terms. I never try to convert anyone who doesn't care for soccer. If you don't like it, I'll never think any less of you. The point of my post is that I am observing more and more people learning to appreciate, and becoming fans of, the sport. I don't know how many people I've run into during this World Cup who've said, "You know, I never really enjoyed watching this, but now I think it's pretty cool."

In short, what Michelle said is absolutely right - We don't need soccer to compete with the big sports here. It's already found it's place here and it ain't going anywhere. It's a permanent part of the American sporting landscape. It may be number five or six on the list, but that's fine.

Mike - No doubt that Rooney is a great player. But answer this question for me - Who has scored the most goals for England in this World Cup? :-)

For my money, Gerrard is the most well-rounded player in the England team. That may be my biased opinion as a Liverpool fan, but neither Cole or Rooney can defend and attack like Gerrard can.

June 23, 2006  
Blogger John B. said...

I just simply maintain that it is not the dawn of a new era in soccer in America, nor are 'big changes' going to happen in soccer as a spectator sport. People have said this for 20 years now, ever since the youth soccer movement began in America.

I qualify big changes as being soccer becoming more than a niche spectator sport in this country. General recognition of teams or players by the 'man on the street' would be a big change or leap.

One major difference I notice about the sport of soccer here in the US and in other coutnries (where the sport is followed with much more of a rabid enthusiasm) generally don't play soccer in the streets and on the playrounds in the US, they for the most part only play it in organized leagues or teams. Go to any European or Central American or African country where the sport of soccer is big, and they play soccer at recess, after school, etc. and dream of becoming soccer stars. It is no mystery why you see kids play basketball or baseball or football pick up games in the US (and you even see less of this lately) and these sports are so big in the US. Kids play and emulate what they follow on TV and in the stands.

Again, not trying to begrudge anyone their soccer or love of the sport, just that I don't see the dawn of a 'new era' in soccer...I see essentially the same passive following of the game for a few days every 4 years, when the World Cup arrives (and until the US team is bounced). I don't see this changing in the US, at least not in the near future.

The only thing that might raise awareness by the man on the street of the sport would be for the US team to win or make it to the final game of the World Cup...only then would the sport receive a major boost in spectatorship.

To be fair, for those of you enthusiastic about soccer, read the interview in this month's 'Cigar Aficianado' with new MSL head Don Garber...he of course has a very positive outlook on the sport.

I would love to see soccer succeed, it is a good sport for kids to play beginning from a young age, and it would be a great sport to play into adulthood, keeping us all a bit more physically fit.

June 23, 2006  
Blogger Jim said...

I think you and I are pretty much on the same page here, John. I'm not maintaining that "big changes" as you define it are going to happen after this World Cup in terms of spectatorship, and if my post implied that, then I wasn't very clear (which is my problem, not the problem of anyone reading my post). I totally agree with you that there isn't going to be a sudden sea change in the number of people who decide to follow the sport here. There's no question about that.

Every year, however, I do see more people interested in the sport, particularly people in their teens and twenties (and some of us geezers in our 30's) who grew up playing the sport. Those of us who follow soccer closely see a slow but steady growth in interest in spectatorship. Slow, yes, but growing. I've been following the sport since the 1994 World Cup, and there's no question that more people are interested now. So that's where I see the positives.

As for my use of "dawn of a new era" - that was primarily in reference to the personnel changes that are going to happen within the national team program, which I think most soccer fans are very eager to see.

June 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For whatever its worth, here's my two cents worth. I think soccer in this country, as a spectator sport, has grown in the last several years. All one has to do is look at how far the MLS has come to see that. As ESPN the magazine reported recently this year one team (and perhaps two) of the teams in MLS will turn a profit. Although that may seem like nothing to celebrate, it is for a league that has bled money for so long (250 million last I checked). Further, MLS got its first televison contract that actually paid it to broadcast its games this past year (in the past the games were little more than informercials). Also if the MLS creates an exemption for one player under the salary cap as is being discussed (right now they have a hard cap), then it might actually become a player for major international talent. That can only increase interest in the league.

I also want to note that the ratings for MLS games are on par with that of the Indy Racing League (minus the 500). That is a sad reality.

I went to a Chicago Fire game a couple of years ago and it was one of the coolest sporting events I have attended. I wish Indianapolis would be considered for MLS expansion in the future.

--The Kid

June 25, 2006  

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