Life Goggles

Chapter 1, Verse 2: The Futbol Hype Machine

Posted in Sports by rreynolds2186 on June 28, 2010

Author Note: This post was written on Thursday June 24, the day after Landon Donovan of the US Men’s National Soccer Team scored a last minute goal to push the US team to the Round of 16. SPOILER ALERT– The US team has since lost to Ghana 2-1 and are out of the tournament–END SPOILER ALERT. Regardless of recent events, I thought I’d post it a few days later as I still feel the same way.

They say this is finally the moment that clinches it. This is finally the moment that America “gets” it. This is the moment that it penetrates the “Big Four” and becomes a viable sport in America. The “it” that is being referred to is the sport of soccer (or the “real” football as the snobs, myself included, like to say), and the moment is Landon Donovan’s stoppage time goal against Algeria to seal a spot in the knockout round of the 2010 World Cup.

Personally, I’m not buying that Americans will finally fall in love with the World’s sport, the beautiful game. And as a soccer fan, an American soccer fan no less, I’d love to believe that the rest of the country is on their way to joining the rest of us who appreciate the pace, the beauty, and the emotions of soccer. The problem is that it’s not going to happen.

Sure, Landon’s goal may have won over a few fans. There may be some NFL diehard that saw the light the moment the ball crossed the goal line and was a changed person. There may be an 8 year old kid who was preparing for his summer league baseball game that watched the majestic result and decided to go out for soccer this fall and maybe even seek out the FIFA World Cup video game for their PS3, Xbox 360 or the Wii. There may have even been someone who ran out and not only bought a USA jersey, but the jersey for the local MLS side too.

Alright, maybe I’m pushing it with that last suggestion. The point is, the USA’s 1-0 victory over Algeria surely converted some non-believers; much like the USA Men’s hockey team bought some new fans with an inspired run to an overtime loss in the gold medal game against Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. But unlike so many columnists and media members are suggesting, soccer is not going to sweep the nation and become part of our national sports conscience. Not yet, anyway.

I think the comparison between the US hockey team and the US soccer team is a good one, because as soon as the Olympics finished, all the national columnists wrote their stories on how hockey was finally here to stay. It was no longer a joke, no longer the little brother that everyone beats on in the sports community. The ratings were sure to rise, the casual observer would not only know the Crosby’s and Ovechkin’s, but also the Kane’s, Thornton’s, Nash’s, Miller’s, Brodeur’s, Pronger’s, Sedin’s, etc.

And what happened? Sure there was a slight bump in ratings and the playoff ratings were higher than they had been in quite some time. But was the entire country swept up with Stanley Cup Playoff fever? Although they should have been (because the NHL playoffs are the most grueling and exciting of all, y’see?), most of the country went about their normal business, which means plenty of regular season baseball and postseason NBA basketball.

My guess is that soccer is going to have the same response. And possibly the sport’s biggest downfall in the States is that our professional soccer league, MLS, is not even close to the top league in the world, which is different from the NFL, the NBA, MLB, and the NHL. Each one of those leagues has the world’s greatest players of each respective sport playing on US soil. The same cannot be said about soccer.

But that doesn’t mean that top level soccer cannot be viewed by Americans. ESPN and Fox Sports Networks have taken to showing English Premier League and La Liga games regularly. Those leagues are considered by most people to be the best in the world.

But for a sport to gain traction in America, the sport can no longer stand on its own merits and intricacies. Rather, it has to be picked up, chewed and spit out over and over by the machine that is the 24/7 sports news cycle. Most Americans probably cannot pick out Lionel Messi, who may be the best soccer player on the planet right now, out of a lineup. Same goes for hockey player Henrik Sedin who just won the Hart Trophy, which goes to the NHL’s most valuable player. But most Americans would be able to tell you that Freddie Mitchell was a former subpar wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles who became famous for one long 4th down catch, some smack talk before the Super Bowl in 2005 and….nothing else. They’d also be able to positively identify and give you the career summary of Adam Morrison, who was one of college basketball’s best players while he attended Gonzaga, but has gone on to mostly ride pine in his short NBA career.

The difference between the two is that football and basketball are talk show mainstays, whereas a hockey or soccer storyline is usually a one or two day event. In fact, when hockey and soccer are topping the news of the day, most uninformed and smug talk show hosts spend the rest of the segment making fun of each respective sport.

For soccer to become one of those mainstays, this has to change. It’s refreshing when a columnist or host talks about soccer whenever there isn’t a large story accompanying it, but this rarely happens. For ratings purposes, most sports talk shows are stuck on when Brett Favre is coming back, when Tiger Woods will play next, and is Kobe Bryant better than Magic or Jordan? Things is, these have been topics for years and they’ve yet to change.

The only solution for soccer to be what so many pundits have predicted it will be is that more shows, more columnists, more networks need to pay attention. The American sports community has to get over the bias that American football, basketball, and baseball are superior sports to soccer (and hockey). While it may be hard to believe, there are many flaws in each sport, but most will not accept the argument that some other sport could possibly be better, more interesting, or more exciting than American sports (particularly the NFL).

It’s not an easy task for soccer, obviously. It’s not like there aren’t plenty of interesting stories each day in the soccer world. Eventually columnists will stop talking about the specific moments that have the potential to lift soccer to heights not seen in America. Eventually those same columnists, pundits, and hosts will start treating soccer and hockey like interesting and exciting sports, because they are.

Soccer isn’t doing anything wrong. It’s all in how it’s perceived by an uneducated and unwilling public.