Wednesday Lunch: Soccer Breakthrough in America is Coming

Posted: May 11, 2011 in mls, soccer, sports
Tags: , , , , ,

By Nick Gallaudet

Any time a coach or a player sets a record that transcends their sport, it often draws comparisons from the media to records from the other “major sports” in America. The four sports considered major in America are baseball, football, basketball, and hockey, and that’s how it’s been for my entire life. However, it seems like every decade or so, there’s a development in American soccer that begs the question: “will soccer ever break through to the mainstream?” It could be the acquisition of a star player or a good showing by the U.S. National team, but until recently, this was an easy question for me to answer—no. I was that guy that wouldn’t give soccer a chance; it bored me, and there was always another sport on I’d rather watch, so what made me reconsider my position? Within the last year, my feelings toward soccer have done a complete 180. I was swept up in the World Cup, and I am now a genuine MLS fan. I genuinely enjoy watching the game and learning about a sport I had no knowledge of. Now, bear with me as I break down why, after all these years, I finally think soccer has a chance in America. As someone who has had this argument dozens of times from both sides now, I feel as though I have a firm grasp of both perspectives, so without further ado, allow me to break down this debate once and for all.

These are some of the most common reasons people believe soccer will never catch on in America, but now that I’ve given the game a chance, I feel as though some of these points are strengths for the game:

1. There’s not enough scoring.

It’s no secret that scoring is much rarer in soccer than any other major American sport. From 2006-2009 MLS games averaged just over 2.5 goals per game, which is nothing compared to the other sports, but that is part of what makes soccer exciting. It’s true that there are fewer comebacks in soccer and a deficit as small as one goal can seem insurmountable, but that makes the entire game important. Knowing that one goal can win the game, it makes every scoring opportunity exciting; every set piece is a chance for a win, and every save could be the difference between a win and a loss. It’s like a pitchers’ duel, everybody knows that a run in the first inning could be the difference, and that doesn’t make the game any less exciting.

2. MLS is inferior and there aren’t enough good American players

This is partly true, but it’s not enough to make MLS unwatchable. College football and basketball are inferior to the NFL and NBA, but that doesn’t render them unimportant. College sports are still exciting, and so is MLS. There are fierce rivalries; just ask anyone from Seattle or Portland. The games are exciting, and the players care just as much as any other sport. As far as American players, it’s no secret that we don’t have the world’s elite soccer players, but we can still compete. Every sports fan knows about Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria last year to send the U.S. to the knockout rounds, and if you have any doubt that the U.S. Men’s National Team can compete, here’s your answer. MLS certainly isn’t the English Premier League, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting.

3. Flopping

I actually don’t have anything to say about this. The flopping can be ridiculous, but I have to be honest, the flopping seems to be more of a European phenomenon. Watching MLS this year, flopping hasn’t been a problem, and trust me, I hate flopping, and if it was a problem, I’d let you know.

4. Ties

This one took some getting used to. I still am not a fan of ties, but the reality is that ties don’t happen as often as you’d think. There is something unsatisfying about not having a winner, but your team still gets a point after a draw, so it makes it somewhat bearable.

Those previous points are not new; they’re the same issues people argue every time, but there are a couple reasons why now is a better time than any for MLS to make it in America. Every major sport in America is having a little bit of an identity crisis. MLB is just coming out of the Steroids Era and trying to reestablish its credibility. A lot of fans were alienated by the cheating and the games seem to get longer and longer. It is a three or four hour commitment to watch one game, and that’s a lot to ask of fans every day. The NHL is dealing with multiple problems: It’s looking for stars. Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin were nonfactors this year, and they’re also struggling with dirty play and head injuries. The main reasons this may be soccer’s time are the lockouts. It is possible that we won’t have any football or basketball in 2011, and that’s perfect for MLS. MLS will be starting its playoffs right when football is supposed to be starting, and people looking for their sports fix may be enticed to watch soccer.

 

Another thing going for soccer in America is the number of trophies available to U.S. teams. There are five different trophies MLS teams are eligible for, and basically, what that means is there are constantly playoffs, and I think we can all agree that playoffs are the most exciting thing about sports. The five trophies are: the Club World Cup, CONCACAF Champions League, MLS Cup, MLS Supporters Shield (Best record in MLS league play), and U.S. Open Cup. In the last month, Real Salt Lake competed for the title in the CONCACAF Champions League, and other MLS teams have been trying to qualify for the U.S. Open Cup. Every game in these tournaments matters and is another opportunity for an MLS club to earn a trophy. All of these trophies are prestigious, and winning one is a thrill for the teams and the fans, and frankly, something no other sport offers.

 

I really think MLS is poised to break through in 2011, and the fact that there are no commercial breaks during the game is a major plus for me. Personally, I am tired of innumerable TV timeouts in the other major American sports, and it’s refreshing to watch a soccer game and not be subjected to endless commercials, but the real thing that sets soccer apart from any other major U.S. sport is their fans. I went to the Portland Timbers/Real Salt Lake game on April 30 in Portland, and I’ve never seen a sporting environment like that before in my life. The Timbers Army, the Portland supporters section took up 14 sections and were constantly singing and chanting the entire game. When Kenny Cooper scored the deciding goal, the crowd went insane; I’ve never heard anything that loud before in my life. It was really special to be a part of, and there seems to be a competition between supporters sections to prove who loves their team more. I think that if people see the enthusiasm others have for MLS, it could really catch on in America, and what better time than right now?

may08

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Comments
  1. CharonPDX says:

    If you want evidence of the excitement of lower-scores, combined with the fixed timespan plus non-specific stoppage time, just look at Vancouver’s draw with Kansas City earlier this year.

    Vancouver was down 3-1 when the clock stopped. At that point, there was the nebulous “about five minutes of stoppage time”. They scored twice, and pulled out a draw. Nobody in the stadium knew exactly how long Vancouver would have once that clock stopped, except *MAYBE* the primary official. (Some don’t even obviously look at their watch during stoppage, seeming to let the time pass solely on ‘gut feel’.)

    One goal down can feel insurmountable, but two down is usually a death knell. The excitement that followed was higher than a “two touchdowns in two minutes” in American Football, better than a ninth-inning two-outs grand slam in baseball, better than a 10-0 run in the fourth in basketball.

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