tclakin

Confed Cup Final: Brazil 4…er 3, US 2

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2009 at 5:39 pm
Even Nike can't help US soccer at this point

Even Nike can't help US soccer at this point

With yet another chance to put soccer over in America and back up years of “No, really, soccer is really cool and fun to watch!” talk, the US Soccer team blew a 2-0 first half advantage to Brazil on Sunday in the Confederation Cup finals and in doing so, wiped itself – and soccer – off the front page of the American consciousness.

For a minute there at the end of the first half, I really thought soccer might finally explode on the scene, the way it certainly has in what seems like every other country in the world. I mean, even I – a devoted soccer naysayer – was watching this Final. After the huge win over Spain, soccer was on the verge of becoming something people talked about around the water cooler in offices across the country. I thought, “Hey, if the US can hold on to this lead and beat the Brazilian Giants, then maybe soccer really will break through.” But alas, it was not to be. The US lost and in the process set soccer in this country back another couple of years.

I’ve thought a lot about why Americans don’t really like soccer. I mean, for a country where every little kid grows up playing Kinderkick, America is shockingly bereft of passionate soccer fans. I’ve heard the arguments that soccer doesn’t have enough scoring, that it’s not physical enough, and that it’s – well, a little boring. But at the end of the day, I really think it comes down to this:

America is a country of Best.

We like the best food, the best music, the best movies, the best athletes. And unfortunately, at this point in time, America cannot offer the best soccer in the world. The MLS is an inferior league with inferior players. Period. Until the US can claim a legitimate bankable soccer star – a player of true greatness – the sport will remain on the American periphery. This is the same reason no one watches the WNBA, and it’s the fundamental flaw which dooms each new football league (see: the XFL, Arena Football, the upcoming and sure-to-fail United Football League) that seems to spring up every few years or so. Americans only want to watch the best athletes in the world compete, regardless of the sport, and if a certain league can’t produce that, it might as well close its doors.

American soccer needs a native superstar – and I’m not talking about Landon Donovan – and a truly competitive team to put it over the top. Seems like an easy enough thing to solve, right? America is chock-full of tremendous athletes. It’s only logical to think that at some point one of them will choose to play soccer.

But it’s not as simple as that.

Soccer in this country is a niche sport. It always has been. The US was late to the soccer party, and we have yet to catch up to the rest of the world. There’s no money in the game here, thus there’s no reason for Jimmy Athlete to lend his skills to soccer instead of, say, basketball or football, where there are gobs of profits just waiting to be made. You’re not going to become rich or famous as a soccer star in the current American sports climate – it’s just not going to happen. So the other major sports siphon off all the best athletes, leaving soccer to scrape the blue chip dredges, the leftovers who couldn’t hack it on the football field or the basketball court.

But it’s not like we don’t have the athletes.

America isn’t genetically soccer-deficient, foot-challenged or something. It’s just that the LeBron’s and the Jeter’s and the Moss’s follow the money and the fame elsewhere, abandoning soccer for sports that offer some semblence of, you know, a future. At its core, our soccer inferiority is a money issue. Flood the MLS with dollars and you’d see a soccer surge, I guarantee it. But until something is done financially – until it becomes profitable, and thus worthwhile, and thus cool to play soccer – the sport will remain on the backburner in America.

Until then, I can tell you one thing for sure – Pele is not walking through that door.

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