I took a long road trip with my two daughters along with their best friend, Elizabeth, to watch soccer. Yes, Soccer. Soccer is one of those sports that seem stuck in what I call the purgatory of the sports department. The irony is that Soccer is one of the most popular sports worldwide and the emotions that the World Cup causes dwarfs even our Super Bowl celebration. Billions of people will watch the event but in the United States, 14,000 souls would sit in the cavernous Soldier field.
Sport is an integral part of culture and often time, a sport’s popularity goes beyond the sport itself. One grows up with a sport. A Canadian grows up with a hockey stick in hand and a Brazilian grows up with a soccer ball in hand. For the young American, the sports of baseball and football tells the story of America as much as any history book. Baseball has been with us for over a century and half and as far as football is concerned, this sport is now America’s sport.
Basketball is another sport that is exclusively American for James Naismith, a Massachusetts PE instructor, invented it. (The irony is that Naismith was the only head coach at the University of Kansas to have a losing record!)
For the past three decades, we have heard that Soccer will make its march to be a major sport in America and yet, it never does. Why? Soccer is not ingrained in our sports consciousness. A young boy or girl may play soccer as child but when they reach high school, they often quit playing the sport in favor of other sports. Soccer is often a sport that parents drag their kids to but somehow, a young boy dreams of being a baseball star or a football star. Young boys do not dream of scoring the winning goal in the World Cup but they do dream of hitting the World Series winning home run or the winning touchdown pass in the Super Bowl.
It does not help that most sports journalists often deride Soccer and it is viewed as a “slow sport.” There are differences between the sports. My oldest daughter, Katharine, noted, “Football is like Chess. You need a plan to win. The goal is take the ball and cross the other guy’s goal. Soccer, on the other hand, there is no plan. You kick the ball down and wait for the right opportunity to happen.” Katharine added, “Soccer is the free lance contrast to the more regimented American football.” Katharine and her friend Elizabeth often watch soccer on TV and have a good understanding of the sport, or at least better than vast majority of sports journalists.
My other daughter Bethany observed, “When you see the sport live, it is a faster sport than it appeared on television.” Soccer is often televised from a distance to encompass the entire field, and at times, we see miniature players moving from point A to B. See the sport live and close up, you’ll see some marvelous athletes moving at full speed. I witnessed one player move perpendicular to the ground as he shot the ball with his left foot right into the right corner of the goal from 30 yards out to score a goal.
The average Soccer player has to run constantly for ninety minutes, the sport is played without any breaks except for injuries. A ninety-minute game is essentially a ninety-minute game. A football game may be a three-hour plus affair. The game I saw lasted less than two hours counting half-time.
As I left Soldier field that night, I came away with a appreciation of the sport. Will Soccer ever reach the pinnacle of football or even baseball or basketball? Good question. What it will take is a change of culture. It may take a superstar the equivalent of a Michael Jordan or Babe Ruth to inspire a young boy to play soccer. When a American soccer player can command a multi-million dollar contract the equivalent of a Barry Bonds or a Bret Farve, then maybe we will see soccer attain such popularity. Until then, Soccer will continue to languish in the purgatory of sports.Powered by Sidelines