ROMAN: Soccer still yet to catch on in the U.S.

David Roman

T.J. procrastinates and has to create an irrigation project in one night on an episode of “Recess.” The Blue Barracudas ran out of Pendants and lost on “The Legends of the Hidden Temple.” That nasally voiced guy shows that the Shamwow really does pick up 50 percent of the cola. What do these things have in common, other than the fact that they are all guilty pleasures? They are all things I’d rather watch than Major League Soccer.

While soccer is practically religion in Europe and a popular sport throughout the rest of the world, it often goes unnoticed within the United States. Since its founding in 1993 through 2004, the MLS had lost up to $350 million, according to Business Week.

Similarly, while Seattle and Toronto, two newer franchises, have shown increases in attendance, the majority of clubs have witnessed major decreases in ticket sales over the past few years, leading to an even larger loss of revenue.

Most clubs struggle to reach $14,000 per game, whereas even the worst baseball and football franchises reach at least $20,000. They even brought David Beckham and one-fifth of the Spice Girls over to try to spike interest.

However, other than a large increase in poster sales for girls between ages 13 and 24, the effect of the British ball-bender has worn off. So why is soccer so unpopular here when everyone else adores it?

Many say that soccer has failed to create enthusiasm in the states because it got started too late. We already had pictures of Jabar’s hook shot, Gibson’s game winning home run and the Immaculate Reception running through our minds when soccer was born. Like the last pork chop at Sunday dinner, soccer may have looked good, but we had already had enough.

Others have looked at the talent that we have on the field as a major weakness. Because we are a much less impressive league, we have trouble attracting the best athletes to play here. Similarly, we often play as a minor league team to those in Europe.

Many of our best young players, such as Clint Dempsey, leave the MLS to play in Europe for more money and more fame. In an economic downturn, spending extra cash on tickets to see B-list stars on the field simply seems illogical. Some point to the fact that we don’t teach our children to focus on soccer, but instead on other sports.

On ESPN we watch 13-year-old kids play baseball and high school and college athletes play football. One of the greatest sporting events of the year involves watching 65 college basketball teams battle it out until only one is left. Yet, we hardly see or hear about college or high school soccer players on the airwaves. Parents and children see what could happen in other sports but see soccer as a possible dead end.

While these are all valid reasons, soccer hasn’t necessarily failed due to lack of talent or airtime. To me, it is because of American culture. In this country, we have come to love immediate satisfaction. If the internet takes more than five seconds to load, we think about how many pieces the computer would break into if thrown out a four-story window. We eat food in McDonald’s and Burger King because we can get it in minutes.

Overall, we would sacrifice quality if it means we get what we want quickly. The same mentality exists for sports. We want the quick, hard hits in football that make you jump, the game-tying home run or the bang-bang play at first base.

Basketball gives us scores every 24 seconds, and hockey gives us men losing their teeth against the glass. While soccer may have the excitement of a goal or great save, the game is more about finesse, about knowing how to control the ball and about knowing where to be and where others are going. You may see the occasional hard hit or broken ankle, but most are just players falling to the grass, looking for a call. Because of that, we get bored easily.

Without the hard hits or constant scoring, we shut our minds off and hope for a possible streaker to run onto the field to liven things up. While others around the world can appreciate the art of midfield takeaway or a well-defended corner kick, we look for something that will satisfy our need for action immediately. Until we can appreciate the fluidity and mastery of soccer, we will miss out on what is considered to be the most popular sport in the world.

So the next time you see an MLS game on television, try to focus on the beauty of the game. Unless Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer are making the best bet ever on Channel 9.


David Roman is a junior psychology and sociology major from Windham, N.H. He can be reached at [email protected]