Monday, June 26, 2006

 

Soccer In America

It'll never be more than a niche sport

Along with Bill O, I'm partly in that niche. I played a bit of soccer in my youth and soccer telecasts are refreshingly devoid of commercial interruptions. If I'm in the mood I may tune into an English Premiere League or UEFA Champions League match. At times I have even chosen to watch (at Bill O's suggestion?) Premiere League games rather than MNF, largely because ABC has, like the other networks, inserted too many commercials breaks into, and drained too much substance out of, its NFL telecasts. But I never make it a point to watch a soccer match. Except for the World Cup.

I try make time to watch matches involving the US and, to a lesser extent, England. (Because I'm familliar with many of their players. Also, there is just something appealing about listening to English fans sing God Save The Queen -- My Country Tis of Thee? -- and, say, taunting German fans by singing songs containing the line 'two world wars, one world cup.' Then again, maybe its just because I can understand what I'm hearing because they sing in English.) I enjoy watching most any World Cup match -- at least for a little while -- as much for the spectacle as for the quality of play. The stakes are as high as they can get for the players involved and the enthusiasim of the fans in the stands is infectious.

As for this year's tournament, there is no question that (deliberately?) poor officiating contributed mightily to the early exit of the US side; I agree with MattO about the Pablo Maestroeni red card and that ridiculous foul call late in the first half during the match with Ghana. But I should also note that US dug its own hole by sleepwalking through their match with the Czech Republic and the officiating during the entire tournament has been horrendous.

I also agree with Matt's observation that soccer is antithetical to US cultural traditions. Via TigerHawk, Steven Warshafsky also agrees:
In my opinion, a lack of scoring is not merely an incidental aspect of the game of soccer -- it is its essence. That is, the ultimate purpose of soccer is to engage in lots of furious activity to accomplish . . . absolutely nothing. Not surprisingly, when that elusive goal is scored (if it is scored), ear-shattering howls of euphoria erupt from players, announcers, and spectators alike, as if their very souls were being released from the depths of hell.

Goals are indeed a rare commodity in soccer, so much so that soccer is, essentially, a zero sum game. The "pie" of goals not only is meager, it never grows. So it is fought over with an intensity that is almost never found in American sports. This isn't boring, but it is deeply unsatisfying to Americans.

My theory is that Americans have neither the belief system nor the temperment for such a sisyphean sport as soccer. We are a society of doers, achievers, and builders. Our country is dynamic, constantly growing, and becoming ever bigger, richer, and stronger. We do not subscribe to a "zero sum" mentality. We do not labor for the sake of laboring. And we like our sports teams to score. Scoring is a tangible accomplishment that can be identified, quantified, tabulated, compared, analyzed, and, above all else, increased. This is the American way.

That soccer may be "the most popular sport in the world" speaks volumes -- but not about America's lack of sporting knowledge or sophistication, as soccer aficionados like to argue. Rather, I think it reflects the static, crimped, and defeatest attitudes held by so many of the other peoples on earth.

The day that soccer becomes one of the most popular sports in the United States is the day that American exceptionalism diminishes in our souls.
I hope that day never comes.

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