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Soccer, anyone?

Published: November 4, 2005
Section: Sports


Soccer has never been Americas game. Actually, its never even been in the top five. Football, baseball, basketball, and even hockey have constantly overshadowed what is easily the most popular sport in the rest of the world. In recent years, even NASCAR has managed to gain more of a hold on the American consciousness than soccer has. Considering the strides that both the mens and womens national teams have made in the last decade, this is a surprising trend. As of the September 2005 rankings, the American men stand at seventh in the world, while the women sit at second, trailing only the Germans. This past August, the mens national team claimed the North American championship in a spectacular Gold Cup against Panama. The men have also qualified for an unprecedented fifth straight World Cup.

Prior to 1990, the U.S. hadnt made an appearance in the worlds biggest tournament for forty years, but now the U.S. is not only expected to qualify for the World Cup, but is also expected to advance well into the playoff stage.

Of course, the women have gone a step further, actually winning soccers biggest prize twice. The first victory was in 1991 in Norway, and eight years later, in what is easily the biggest moment in American soccer history, Brandi Chastains penalty kick led the women to a 1-0 victory over China in Los Angeles. Since then, the womens team has been a powerhouse on the international scene and has seen some of soccers legends, including Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, and Kristine Lily, step onto the field.

So, with all this success, why has the game not caught on in the States? Even though 90,000 fans came out to cheer on the womens national team against China, the WUSA (Womens United Soccer Association) could not gather enough support and folded after just two seasons. The MLS (Major League Soccer) has fared better and is currently in the midst of its tenth year, but the league has never been able to build a consistent fan base and each season comes and goes without much changing. Actually, the MLS playoffs are going on right now and the New England Revolution are seeded first in the Eastern Conference, although nobody seems to be paying any attention. The World Series, the start of the NFL season, and the return of the NHL have all pushed the MLS far into the background.

But I believe that the problem goes deeper than the fact that the relatively young MLS cant compete with national institutions like Major League Baseball and the NFL. Soccer has the great misfortune of being a game that does not conform to the typical American stereotype of an exciting game. America likes its scores high. Look at the other sports that we call our own: A great football game ends 35-28. A great basketball game ends 101-100. Even a great baseball game finishes 7-6. However, in soccer goals are rare, ties are frequent, and many great games end up 0-0. Mix in that soccer is a game of patience, where often the best play to make is simply passing the ball backwards, retreating, and trying again, and youve got an event that puts the common American into a stupor. America does not like a 0-0 game, which is highly unfortunate. For so many decades the American national team floundered as the laughingstock of the international soccer world, and now that theyve finally achieved a level of respectability, its a shame that no one is watching. There is a real chance that the mens team is going to challenge for the upcoming 2006 World Cup in Germany. I sincerely hope that by then America will have caught onto a team and a sport that for right now it simply cant be bothered with.