Wednesday, February 16, 2011

This is America and We Call it Soccer

Don't get me wrong, I love soccer. I grew up playing soccer and love the free-flowing aggressiveness of the sport, but I hate it when people call it "football". And by people I mean Americans. If you grew up outside the U.S. or have an accent, then feel free to call it "football" as much as you want; that's you're right because that's the way it has always been for you. I concede that what the rest of the world calls "football" started long before American football started in the late 19th century, but come on obnoxious guy who's trying to impress somebody - you grew up calling the sport soccer.

Soccer is a sport that has "been on the verge of breaking out" in the U.S. for what seems like decades. The MLS is not a successful league, and our most talented players continue to play professionally for clubs in Europe, Central and South America, and even in Asia now. I have no solution to this. I really wish I did, but this seems like more than just an infrastructure problem. Maybe starting soccer academies like European clubs could help foster home grown talent much the way Major League Baseball's farm system develops talent to move up to the top level. Sounds great in theory, right? Players can be "drafted" out of high school and sent to an MLS team's farm system or they can opt to play in college for four years to earn a degree while developing their talent. The most talented players make it to "The Big Show" almost right away (think the soccer equivalent of Steven Strasburg or Jason Heyward) and become superstars that captures the country's imagination...

Or they become Freddy Adu. Do you remember that guy? Wasn't he supposed to save American soccer? He didn't even make the U.S. National Team for the 2010 World Cup, though I'm sure most people thought that he and midfielder Maurice Edu were the same guy. This is not meant to rag on Adu, the guy obviously has talent but just didn't develop the way a lot of people had hoped. Maybe it's because he wasn't allowed to develop in a carefully structured academy system, or maybe it's because there was so much pressure thrust on him to become the face of the sport at such a young age. Either way, the MLS is still looking for the tipping point that will put them up with the big dogs in American professional sports (I guess David Beckham didn't work either).

Maybe the reason soccer hasn't caught on with a lot of consistent popularity in the U.S. (remember how high everyone was on the sport thanks to Landon Donovan and the World Cup last summer?) is because it and its players are perceived to lack the level of toughness associated with mainstream American sports. Hockey, baseball, football, and even basketball players play injured often. Look at guys like Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers who played a playoff game on a torn ACL, Kirk Gibson hitting a game winning home run in the World Series on a broken leg, and Ronnie Lott who had the tip of his finger amputated so he could continue playing. "Rub some dirt on it" is a saying that a lot of American grew up with. That's the mentality in a lot of American sports - you're hurt, rub some dirt on it, then get back out there and play your heart out. It's this mentality the instills begrudging respect among opponents and creates legends in sports.

Having this type of mentality instilled in you can make it hard to watch the types of flops and dives that you see way too often in a lot of professional soccer. The Diving Board is a site that hosts videos of some of the more ridiculous and embarrassing dives in the sport. It's not hard to spend about five minutes on this site and understand why Americans can't get into soccer. American fans get worked up when a Duke player makes a ridiculous flop, so it's not hard to see how they can't stand the likes of this, or these.

So come on guys, rub some dirt on it and play on. I said play on!

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