I don’t know about you, but I am getting tired of countries with a tenth of our population beating Team USA soccer in international play. Why isn’t soccer more popular in the United States? Despite the crowds that were watching the US team play in the World Cup, interest in soccer in the United States remains low.
There are many reasons which have to do with everything from money to the nature of the game itself. Many simply do not understand soccer rules or how to play soccer. And the idea of not using your dominant appendages in sports is a little strange to Americans. They also look like they are just kicking the ball back and forth a lot which is really frustrating to watch. The cameras are pulled so far back from the field that it is often hard to see what is really going on. Imagine an NFL game being shown from that far off point of view.
And let's face it, the faking injuries is really annoying. Can you imagine an NFL player rolling around on the ground in "agony" by just getting brushed by one of the defenders? Americans are not used to that type of fake play and the athletes themselves would never put up with it. I can just image what an NFL player would say to someone faking an injury over nothing like these international soccer players do.
As I tell some of my Brazilian friends, our best athletes do not usually choose the soccer route in the US. That is not to deride any current soccer players. These guys are incredibly fit, much more so than the average baseball player and there is a definite skill set involved in playing the game. Besides, half of any baseball roster is made up of a bunch of fatties that get winded from running around the bases once.
Interestingly, the United States women's soccer team is very good and typically does very well in international play. This is primarily due to the fact that women athletes have fewer options for playing professional sports. It’s either WNBA or women’s soccer or maybe women’s tennis or golf for a select few.
But this makes my point. Our elite male athletes have too many options for earning money playing professional sports. Compare that to a country like Brazil. They only focus on 3 main sports: UFC, volley ball and of course, soccer. Their athletes are not spread out like ours over many leagues and many sports. There aren't any baseball or basketball leagues in Brazil.
I have heard a lot of discussions about how to improve the game to get more American interested. It mainly revolves around the lack of scoring. Soccer scores are usually very low and just like watching an NFL game that ends 6 – 3 or a 1 – 0 baseball game, you have to be a real purist to appreciate that.
However, the game is not going to change to suit American appetites for action and that way of thinking is a bit arrogant to begin with. The rest of the world loves soccer the way it is.
But before you get down on Americans thinking the game needs to be changed, remember that Europeans changed basketball to suit their needs and we have to play a game that was invented here under their rules in international play.
But the 2014 World Cup may be a turning point for United States soccer for several reasons.
There are soccer leagues in the USA but they do not have the prominence of the other major sports. I predict that is going to change in the next decade as more and more people get interested in “the beautiful game”.
Imagine you are a top athlete in high school or college. If the NBA or NFL is calling, the money is probably going to be much better than playing in Major League Soccer. That’s not to say that some soccer players do not make a lot of money though. Some of the European teams shell out multi-million dollar contracts for these guys too.
However, for the most part the money is in the top three in the US: football, baseball and basketball.
When that changes, the athletes will follow.
I saw an article recently that said World Cup matches are equaling or besting Word Series ratings during the last few weeks. While this can be attributed to increased interest from Americans, breaking down the ratings show that about 10 million viewers are watching it on Univision, the Spanish satellite network in the United States and Latin America.
Going forward, this is only going to grow. Advertisers will take notice of the eyeballs which will pump more money into the networks televising the games, which eventually will filter down to the leagues themselves through television contract rights, then to player contracts. This will get the attention of young athletes.
If I had a son, I would not allow him to play American football as a child or in high school. That is an extremely violent game and there is nothing they can really do about it going forward. The rules they are implementing now to stem concussion related injuries are not a solution.
The main problem is the size, strength and speed of the players keeps increasing. When you have two of these geeked up monsters running full speed at each other, then you get what you get regardless of better helmets or teaching correct ways of tackling.
The only solution I see for the NFL is to implement weight limits for each position. For instance, corners are not allowed to be over 180 lbs, safeties must be under200 lbs. and linebackers under 230 lbs.
If that sounds weird, consider the fact that through most of the history of the NFL, this was the case. If you went back and looked at the rosters from 1970, the linemen only weighed between 250 – 275 lbs. Now they are all over 300 lbs. and much stronger due to better fitness and nutrition.
If the NFL really wants to get a handle on concussions and other injuries, addressing the size of players is the only real solution I see. However, it is never going to happen.
Therefore, I predict that more and more parents will start to steer their sons into soccer, and the soccer youth leagues are really the key to getting better internationally.
Fame and Glory
As the interest increases, then the ratings and money will follow. After that, the fame will come. Most Americans cannot name one soccer player in the world, much less an American player in the World Cup or in MLS, but as the sport gains in popularity that will change and lure some of these guys. And let’s face it, aside from money, that is what a lot of these guys crave: fame and adoration.
The rest of the world idolizes their best soccer players. Guys like Neymar are considered a God in Brazil. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are rock stars in their respective countries and beyond.
Imagine a Lebron James or a Calvin Johnson playing goalie for the US Men’s team. With their athleticism and length, they would be like an octopus back there.
Imagine a Richard Sherman or a Kobe Bryant heading the ball away defending a corner kick.
As soccer becomes more popular in the US, this will happen eventually. Elite athletes will choose the relatively safety of soccer more and more as the money and interest flows into the sport. If we are going to compete internationally in anything, we should have our best representing us. However, it's probably going to take another generation.
Maybe. It is not as simple as replacing our college basketball players with pros as we did with the Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics. Soccer has to be developed from the youth leagues and I predict that will start to happen more and more for all of the reasons I outlined above. That is the way it is done in Brazil. You see soccer games being played on the beach and everywhere around the city. It is in their blood. If we want to be successful in international play, we have to develop athletes that are equally as passionate about the game.
Still, the game is going to have to fix some of the issues like injury faking which is never going to play with American audiences. And count that clock down, not up!