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Soccer: A Cultural Appreciation

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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.

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About Tom Donelson


    You can watch a 90 minute soccer match that ends with a 1-0 score, I think that has something to do with its popularity in the US, we like goals. You could say that hockey is a low scoring game, but it is played in a much smaller area, so the turnovers are much quicker.

    Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy soccer, and it is a topic that a great way to meet people and make conversation around the world.

  • Oh god, here we go again…debating the validity of soccer (futbol). OK, Baseball is boring as hell if scoring a whole bunch is considered exciting.

    The ideal soccer match would be a 3-2 final score. That would be like a 21-14 football (American) game.

    I have seen soccer matches that were 1-0 final score that have been so exciting.

    The MLS is getting better. I have noticed a better sense of style developing in the league. They are getting better at opening up the pitch and I have seen some very nice finishing.

    Soccer is a very pure sport. The clock continues to run. does not stop everytime the ball goes out of bounds or someone’s carcass has to be dragged off the field. the referee will add ‘stoppage time’ (usually 2 or 3 minutes) to the end of the match. I love that the clock counts upwards from 0 to 45 ninutes for the first half. From 45 to 90 minutes for the second half. The ball is not out of bounds till it entirely crosses the line. Not just touching it. It’s purity and simplicity of rules are really nice. The referee can call advantage to a play if a penalty is committed but it is to a teams advantage to let the ball play on as opposed to stopping play, setting up a free kick. Keeps the flow of the game moving.

    Anyway, having lived in this Northwest USA territory since 1965 and having had the advantage of playing this game on an organized level since then, I can say I have 39 years of playing experience in this game. So, yes, I do have it in my blood. Kids around here have grand parents that can play the game quite well.

    Too many sports in this country to support. I say soccer has its best chance in this country by using the smaller market cities to plant teams. You don’t need some huge (50,000+) crowds to support it. Playing in summer sux enuf. To me, it has always been a fall-winter thing.

    Anyway, blah, blah, blah…


  • soccer is the sport of the future….

    …and it always will be!

    (sorry, for repeating that line. i actually heard a caller on sports radio use it and it cracked me up)

    seriously though, i watched the whole iraq game yesterday and it was a load of fun.

  • Eric Olsen

    the more you know about it, the more you like it, like any other sport. I think at the pro level, Americans are somewhat resentful of the fact that we are so far “behind” most of the rest of the world, and are unwilling to give it the energy and emotion they give the Big Three (er, four, if you count hockey) pro team sports.

  • Mark, oh yes, the Iraq team showing well at the Olympics is cool! That is one of the deals with soccer. I want Iraq to go far in this Olympic tournament. It will sure be an uplift for their country. Just the right thing for their newfound independence (now they need independence from the USA).

    I’m amazed they were able to field any sort of Olympic team as well. Goes to show the depth of existence of sports in the modern world.

    Anyway, Iraq did play some quality soccer in their wins. I think they will do well, possibly win a medal. It would be cool if they could pick up a bronze. It would help unify that whole country. They never made it far under Sadaam’s control.


  • yep, there’s the amzing aspect of them being there at all…and then of course, it’s always fun to root for the underdog.

    that particular game was playing in a style that i sorta think would be more to the liking of the uninitiated. lots of play at the ends.

    i’ve seen game in the past that inhabit midfield for too long and it can be a real snoozer.

    (though i can watch golf for hours so what the hell do i know?!)

  • Eric Olsen

    “Golf: a good walk spoiled” – Mark Twain

  • i actually own a polo shirt with a pocket logo of a golfer walking away from a green while snapping a club over his knee.

  • Eric Olsen

    I wonder what would happen if you put your anti-golf shirt in the washer at the same time with a golf shirt – annihilation of life as we know it?

  • i’ve gotta scan & post the score card that caused me to a) quit golf and b) order that shirt.

    i tell ya, it’s a laugh riot.