I have to say that soccer will always be the sport with the best memories for me. Playing every spring and fall as I did growing up for five and a half years – 11 seasons — was really great. I was only an average player – I made an all-star team once as a defender. But it’s just such a fun, simple, pure game. I remember at recess in elementary school it was the thing to do. There were so many kids on the field it was ridiculous. It must have been 20 on 20. Part of the problem with soccer in the U.S. is that once kids reach middle school age, the number of recreational leagues goes down.
I’ll admit that I don’t have the patience to watch a lot of soccer on TV. Like hockey and baseball, soccer is a lot more fun to watch in person. But what really gets me is the arrogant attitude that the U.S. sports media has on soccer. It’s one thing not to like the sport very much, but to openly have such disdain for it is really over the top. It’s not uncommon to hear sportscasters ridicule the sport, being proud of their ignorance, and dismissing it completely. I actually believe that the lack of respect the U.S. sports media gives soccer is emblematic of the way many Americans view the world – as if we are the center of the world, and we don’t care to understand other cultures. Is it possible that the whole world is wrong about soccer? It is awesome to hear European or South American fans chant in unison for their teams.
There is actually a slice of that flavor and passion in the U.S. DC United, the Washington team in Major League Soccer (MLS), draws about 15,000 fans a game. Though not a huge number, those fans are incredibly raucous, chanting for United and singing rhythmically. It doesn’t hurt that they play at old RFK Stadium, where the bleachers literally shake. It’s amusing to hear some people say that they don’t understand soccer. Isn’t it the simplest of all the major sports?
Another thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that there was a moderately successful pro soccer league in the U.S. in the late 70s. The North American Soccer League had the New York Cosmos, led by world superstars Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia. They actually used to sell out Giants stadium, averaging 70,000 fans per game. Those players were superstars in New York for a few years. The Washington Diplomats often sold out RFK Stadium when the Cosmos came to town and had solid average attendance figures of around 20,000. I went to an English Premier League match in 2004 where the stadium only held about 22,000 (Fulham FC). However, too many of the NASL’s stars were in New York and the league expanded too fast, and the NASL folded in 1984.
Much to the dismay of the U.S. sports media, MLS is slowly gaining interest in America. If the sportscasters and sportswriters in the U.S. paid more attention to it, and if ESPN devoted more time to it, the sport would gain more fans. However, nobody wants to take chances and mess up a successful TV formula of pro football, basketball, baseball, hockey, golf, and auto racing. Meanwhile, baseball’s popularity may be waning. The 2008 American League Championship Series was on TBS. TBS?