Common Thread, Small World

Wednesday, July 06, 2011 | View Comments
- Jason Davis

For the better part of two years, I've been trying to pin down the common thread that runs through so much of my writing on the "big picture" of American soccer. We're a cynical bunch, we American soccer fans, so it would be easy to paint the "problems" we have growing the game as a simple issue of the sport being a poor fit for the country. Americans don't like soccer enough, full stop.

League TV ratings stink, MLS gets no respect, our National Team is stagnating which leads to so many of those infuriating "opportunity lost" and "soccer will never catch on here" screeds. The game IS growing, but not fast enough for our impatient modern sensibilities, so we gnash our teeth violently on everything from aforementioned TV numbers to the funky structure in place here that is so vastly different from the way the rest of the world enjoys the sport. There are no clear divides, so while a large portion of American soccer fans have embraced MLS, another significant segment chooses to mostly ignore it, with plenty of gray in between. European soccer looms large, contrasting everything here and maddeningly "stealing" so much of the spotlight those of us behind the American game think rightly belongs focused on our leagues.

"It's complicated" is a cop out. I know that, even as I feel the irresistible urge to lean on it. Americans - soccer fans, potential soccer fans, general sports fans - have so much going on and so many entertainment options available to them that pinning down the hows and whys of it all is like sussing out how DC United can't get a stadium built. At some point I just want to throw up my hands and enjoy the game without having to consider the deeper question.

What I've come to, and this is disgustingly disappointing as anything could be, is that the world is just too small for anything without a long and culturally significant history to grow beyond a certain glass ceiling. It's tantalizing to think of soccer "taking over" and becoming the second, third, or even fourth biggest sport in the United States. Unfortunately, there's a very real chance that it's just not possible. I'm torn between relenting and just enjoying what we have and looking for a new center on issues of soccer's place in America.

Let's review for emphasis: plenty of Americans love soccer. Plenty more will join them in the future. But no matter how many do, there's just not enough space for the sport to grow beyond a limit determined by how accessible our world is. Growth might be finite.

It's soccer that holds back soccer, to a large extent. We can watch just about any league we like on any weekend during the European season. We can watch Copa America - with English commentary - streamed live on our computers. We can click a few links and see the richest players out and about, doing whatever it is they do when they're not amazing us on the pitch. Soccer culture is football culture, meaning that geographic location no longer matters when it comes to the way we consume the game. Some of the biggest and best soccer sites in the world are based in the United States - no apologies needed - and while some of them are admittedly run by ex-pats with their pedigree as people who grew up in a country with the game is paramount, Americans are exerting amazing influence on nearly everything. We've diversified, reaching tentacles out across the world rather than limiting ourselves to a provincial corner of the game. That speaks well of us, but means that the soccer played here will always be largely secondary.

And even if all of those "Eurosnobs" come to love American soccer via MLS, there's only so far this little league can go. The ceiling looms. We can deceive ourselves into imagining something else is possible, rail against all of those people who keep the game down, or accept that domestic soccer's place is, and always will be, niche. I'm guessing some of you already have. Perhaps your burden is to help everyone else that is not yet convinced. Short of that, ask them to relax.

We've come to the point of this ramble where I realize that I'm saying nothing new. Though this may sound somewhat defeatist, I don't believe it to be anything of the kind. We have to analyze our motives for wanting soccer to grow faster than it will naturally; is it so the National Team will win a World Cup? Is it so the world's best players will willingly come to MLS at the height of their careers? Is it that we want (read: need) MLS to be the center of the soccer world? If the answer is yes - to any of them - why? What kind of validation do we need?

There's a peace to be found, I know it. Since it's impossible to know where the upper limits on soccer's growth might be, I have no idea where that peace might be.

Believe me when I say that none of the preceding was meant to convince you of anything. That was mostly for me. All I was really trying to convey is my belief that the world is simply too small for American soccer to become more than a minor sport, with even that term being vague. Exploring it simply led to an attempt to rationalize why that fact is okay.

Later. I'm off to check attendance numbers and TV ratings, looks for MLS highlights on SportsCenter, and curse at every idiot that claims soccer is "never going to make it in America."

I'm (fairly) certain it already has.

blog comments powered by Disqus
    KKTC Bahis Siteleri, Online Bahis



    Privacy Policy