Every time the World Cup or the Olympics rolls around, there are a spate of articles in U.S. newspapers wondering whether it’s "finally time" for soccer to establish itself in the U.S. People point to respectable TV ratings for soccer games, and investors gather money and start professional soccer leagues. After a few months, the fans drift away, the ad revenues shrink, and the leagues disband, or limp on fitfully, far beyond other sports in salary and attention. Until the next World Cup/Olympics, when the process starts again.
Why don’t Americans fancy the game?
I suppose I’m in as good a position as any, since I played soccer in youth leagues when I was a young teen, but never paid much attention to the sport later. Both experiences are common in the U.S. (that’s where the expression "soccer moms" coms from). I was a fullback, and had a pretty powerful left-kick. But I never felt an urge to follow the sport later.
America’s coolness to soccer’s a bit hard to explain. The criticisms of soccer are legion: prevalence of useless-seeming scoreless ties, too team-oriented, the offside rule, no time for ads/breaks; few chances for individual distinction or tense face-to-face confrontations, incomprehensible statistical rules that govern tournament advancement. But each of these applies equally to one or more sports that are popular in the U.S. I tend to think it’s just a matter of deep, almost chthonic national tradition. There’s just something faintly un-American about soccer, a whiff of wimpy compromising teamwork and metrosexuality.
With horrified fascination, I find that I’m beginning to really care about the World Cup! I’ve even placed bets on the outcome, although they’re probably very stupid ones. And I’m not alone, reports the Washington Post:
The U.S. Soccer Federation received more than 40,000 applications for tickets, and sold out its initial allotment of 10,000 in a day. Another 5,000 tickets were bought by American fans through FIFA, the international soccer federation.
The growth in fan interest was apparent even in Norderstedt, the site of the U.S. practice on Tuesday. There were about 1,000 spectators, most of them Germans, including dozens of schoolchildren wearing USA T-shirts. The Germans even knew most of the U.S. players’ names; Germany knocked the United States out of the 2002 World Cup, and more than half the U.S. team plays professionally in Europe.
Perhaps, if the U.S. does well, soccer will move up another rung in the U.S. But first we have to somehow break out of Group E.