EL PASO, Texas — Many have often wondered why soccer (football in the rest of the world) popularity in the United States has never been the same as that of the world. I lend a theory to this. Low scores, no real off-season, too many events already happen here that do not happen elsewhere and flopping. Americans like entertainment, they like high scores and dramatic finishes.
The bottom line comes down to the fact that soccer’s simplicity may be the contributing factor to its lack of popularity and exposure in the United States. It is a game that can be played anywhere in any environment much in the same way that it is played on a pitch. Only needing a ball, a flat surface and objects to act as posts, one has all they need to play the game. This allows for even the poorest nations to play this game from the slums to the schools, so long as there is a space big enough and flat enough to play on.
There is a sense of soccer in the United States clearly seen in the cities where a multitude of youngsters play peewee soccer, teenagers can play in some high schools or city leagues and even sometimes, adult city leagues. Something is missing still that does not allow this sport to propel itself to the top of the American sports world. The lack of high caliber clubs in the United States is clearly why many struggle to identify with teams that are so far from home. The lack of scoring is a big factor for Americans, clearly something should be done about that (other than changing the make-up of the ball), but they do see the drama in low scoring as somewhat exciting.
More than any other country, the United States should take interest in this game since it is such a recognized sport on the global stage and they are often behind in talent. Lately, interest has grown since the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea and the Gold Cup in 2008, but only after putting up great performances. The nation is waiting for a hero and it’s only a matter of time before the US breaks through the football world to become an international powerhouse.
This World Cup could be the spark the US is waiting for to gain the attention from the media it desires. The controversial call made by Koman Coulibay late in the second half against Slovenia could cause exactly what football in the US needs. One thing is certain, Americans do not like to get cheated. Something tells me that the US may be getting more involved in the game as a whole due to this infamous call made by Coulibay.
“The big guy on the playground just got hit with the ball and he wants to know why,” says Franck Alexis, a young French footballer I met while in France. Alexis went on to say, “this maybe exactly what Americans need to become more interested in the sport.”
Many people around the world are feeling a mixture of fear and wonder as they see the wealthiest nation become involved in a sport that champions the poor. “They will certainly begin lobbying for some sort of replay system and to do something about flopping,” says Ray Moreno, an eastsider that watched the US-Slovenia game at home with his family. Moreno and his family can’t wait to see what will happen with US soccer in the next ten years, “talent is definitely out there, but the programs and competition after the U-14 leagues are not.”
The Moreno family may represent exactly what is happening and what fuels the growing interest in US soccer. Latin-American families are growing every year in the US, and so is the interest in soccer. However, it is not only Latin-American families that are growing, so are many others, many from countries where football is life. Little can be done concerning the coverage because it is where it needs to be, but the schools are really playing catch-up with the game. Being the most popular sport for boys and girls for more than 30 years has not proved to be enough to propel the sport any further than its counterparts.
What the future holds for the sport in the US is uncertain, but one thing is, interest has been sparked. The infamous call, beating powerhouse Spain in the Gold Cup, and increased media coverage are all going to take this sport into the next era of American soccer. “Wait until we get a guy like Kobe Bryant playing soccer for us, or better yet, Adrian Peterson,” says Moreno.