The Future’s Open Wide

By Chris

Steve Rushin, I hope you’re right and the New York Post is just sarcastic.

I usually really don’t care about what the Average American thinks. In fact, it’s very unlikely that I would even like the most average Average American if I met him on the street. The Average American is why “Two and a Half Men” is the No. 1 comedy on television, why we must endure another “Twilight Saga” movie and why “The Da Vinci Code” is the best-selling English-language novel of the century. The Average American doesn’t necessarily have the best taste.

In just about every other country in the world, children are raised on soccer. It’s like hockey for Canadians. If you’re old enough to walk, you’re old enough to skate. A lot of kids across the pond grow up with soccer cleats glued to their feet. It’s a sport for the lower classes and that’s why so many people have picked it up. But Americans simply haven’t latched on.

It could be the saturation of sports in this country. Even though ESPN only cares about three sports most of the time, it’s tough for soccer to really get any airtime. And the Average American sports fan really only watches SportsCenter to find out what’s going on. SportsCenter, on average, is all they need.

The Average American — sports fan or not — probably doesn’t know the difference between Rick Reilly and Rick Astley. But it’s likely they share Reilly’s opinion of soccer.

A piece like this gets me worried about the state of the game in the States. We know ESPN spent a boatload of money for the broadcast rights to the World Cup and so far they’ve done a great job demonstrating not only what’s going on down on the pitch, but why the sport matters to so many people around the globe.

Reilly’s biggest beef isn’t with anything that goes on at field-level, but with those love-em-or-hate-em vuvuzellas. And he uses what goes on in the stands to discredit the event as a whole.

Rushin absolutely destroys Reilly in this column for CNN published (coincidentally?) an hour-and-a-half later:

And even if I didn’t like the vuvuzela, I would keep my objections to myself. It isn’t polite to tell another country how to watch a soccer match. The sound that issues from the vuvuzela is cacophonous — joyful and infuriating at the same time. It calls to mind mosquitoes on a continent tragically ravaged by those malaria-bearing insects.

For better and worse, the vuvuzela is the sound of South Africa. As Charlie “Bird” Parker said: “If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn.”

Now, I was always more of an “Air and Space” guy than a Sports Illustrated back page guy, so I am a bit partial to Rushin. Sue me. And no, Reilly’s new book won’t be featured in this year’s Reading With The Roost.

What I’ve been struggling to understand, really, is the hatred than can be directed towards the beautiful game. Chuck Klosterman once wrote that he’d rather have his children deal crystal meth than play soccer.

If you’re going to get into the actual gameplay, I do get some of the complaints. A lot of people are down on the players flopping around and looking to draw a foul. Believe me, I wanted to lash out at every player from Ghana who called for a stretcher only to sprint back onto the pitch 12 seconds later. What a waste of stoppage time.

But every sport deals with this. Nick Mendola, one of the most vocal soccer supporters in the area, had a great column on that when the World Cup started a few weeks ago. Wide receivers always try and draw defensive interference fouls down the field. Batters tend to lean into pitches. Hockey has its Derek Roys. And basketball may have the worst offenders of diving this side of the Atlantic.

Is it because goals are only worth one point and they’re as rare as a Honus Wagner baseball card? Is the lack of instant replay going to find its way into the list of excuses as to why people won’t give the sport a fair shake?

I really do worry that more people are thinking like Reilly than Rushin. Hopefully this World Cup has helped sway some of those opinions. And changing the minds of the skeptics and the apathetic is really the only way soccer can take the next step here. The Average American is going to have to come around at some point. American Soccer needs the Average American.

And if you dislike the sport for other reasons, more power to you. Seriously. It means you haven’t fallen into the rhetoric and I can absolutely respect that.

Another U.S. win or two may have helped boost my confidence in the game’s staying power here. It’s tough to sell tickets when the best players in the world play their regular seasons on foreign soil. Any extra exposure for our homegrown stars would have been extremely beneficial.

From the looks of things, I think the people who are in are going to hang on through the conclusion of the tournament in South Africa. Whether or not it goes beyond July 11 is anybody’s guess.

Although, let’s be honest here, you really can’t necessarily expect Americans to take the sport seriously when this is your version of American football’s Ron Jaworski:


Rock on, Alexi (Thanks to twoeightnine for the video link).

I really and sincerely hope soccer has hooked you this past month like it’s hooked me for most of my life. I grew up playing the game so I’m already in head-over-heels. Nearly 15 million Americans watched the national team fall to Ghana on Saturday so there’s definitely something there.

Of those 15 million, I was elbows-to-asses with some-200 screaming and chanting fanatics. I wouldn’t pass that experience up for anything. The loss almost brought me to tears and I know I wasn’t alone. Expectations for the States have been raised for the 2014 World Cup, not only by fans, but by the players and coaches themselves. A one-and-done in the Knockout Round won’t be good enough.

If you can’t wait that long for high-caliber soccer, the Premier League opens play in August. If you’re struggling to find a rooting interest, look for the Americans. Goalkeeper Tim Howard backstops Everton, midfielder Clint Dempsey is on Fulham, Roberto Jimenez plays for Chelsea and Jonathan Spector is a defender for West Ham United, just to name a few.

Me? I’m committed to Tim Howard’s bandwagon and I’ll cheering on the School of Science.

The USMNT next laces up on Aug. 10 against Brazil. Over and above all of the uncertainty surrounding personnel and management, I think there’s one question at the heart of it all: Will America still care?

5 Comments

  1. Jon

    Whether you are a soccer fan or not, you have to admit the Post headline is hilarious.

  2. well written. alexi’s beard is priceless

  3. Mike

    I have three big points of disagreement. In full disclosure, I played a lot of soccer growing up, and I enjoyed playing it, but I can take or leave watching it and generally only watch the world cup. There are a few reasons why soccer will deservedly never catch on here:
    1. The fact that when a soccer player is remotely touched, he reacts as if he’s been gutshot. This just goes against pretty much every American value of sportmanship ever. Particularly in hockey, players who dive earn among the worst reputations in the sport, but in soccer it somehow becomes a virtue.
    2. The low scoring. Every team plays not to lose. I understand that’s part of the game, and the purists will argue that soccer should not change. That’s all well and good, but again, if all hockey games were played like the Panthers, Devils and Bruins play, I’d probably stop watching hockey too. Football and hockey has just the right amount of scoring. Basketball has too much. Maybe Americans have sports ADHD.
    3. Vuvuzelas are not ok. I think FIFA will think long and hard about ever doing an African world cup again. I wholeheartedly reject the relativist notion based on cultural diversity that blowing on a horn for three hours is as good as a way of showing fanhood as other ways. Don’t get me wrong, a NFL fan getting completely wasted and throwing up all over the bleachers isn’t good either, so there’s plenty of blame to go around. I just don’t agree that all cultural expressions are equally valuable. To draw a perhaps unfair comparison, look up “daggering.” It’s acceptable in it’s cultural context, shockingly. Should it be? That’s another question. To me blowing a vuvuzela is about as valuable and beautiful as daggering. At some point, as a society, we just have to draw lines. Otherwise everything everyone does is ok.

  4. kyle schlaich

    ‘The fact that when a soccer player is remotely touched, he reacts as if he’s been gutshot. This just goes against pretty much every American value of sportmanship ever.’

    american value of sportmanship! are you kidding me? firstly, hockey is a canadian game. secondly, do you watch the NBA? talk about acting!
    to be fair. in football only the south american teams, plus spain, portugal, and italy have a shit ton of diving. I feel its because of their culture… very dramatic people.