By Matt Ream

 

In the buildup to the Gold Cup final on Saturday, I was attending a wedding instead of tailgating at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California with my brother and friends. I was nowhere near a television so I was forced to use my phone as a way to stay updated on the pre game coverage. I almost constantly checked Facebook and Twitter, and texted my brother multiple times to figure out what was going on.

 

Among other things was the news that a Mexican fan had thrown a full and unopened bottle of Bud Light destined for the back of my brother’s head while he was engaged in a beer pong game, only to be thwarted by the quick reflexes of a nearby member of the American Outlaws, who managed to deflect it into my brother’s back. Maybe it was a good thing I was not there, as I could have been one of over 20 people arrested (surprisingly only a small amount of people were arrested at the game last night, apparently throwing beer bottles and other things into crowds before and during the game isn’t a crime), likely for confronting the asshole who did that. It really never changes – Mexican fans always seem to behave in the same inappropriate and disrespectful manner toward US supporters and the US national team.

 

Back to my story –

I had finally managed to escape to the hotel bar to watch the game live (no game audio, just the sweet sounds of karaoke) when my phone succumbed to the massive amount of energy use I had put it through in the past few hours. Phone-less and alone, I turned my attention to the game. What stunned me was the hugely disproportionate crowd in the stands. The entire stadium was bathed in a sea of green, with only small pockets of red and white struggling to stay afloat. I didn’t find out until later that night that every time Tim Howard took a goal kick, a loud chorus of “Puta’s” serenaded him. The Mexican fans also took delight in chanting “Ole!” each time a pass was completed by the Mexican team, even when it was in their own half.

 

The bar where I watched the entire game was also filled with Mexico supporters, who screamed “Chicharito” each time a Mexican player took a shot, regardless of whether or not that player was actually Javier Hernandez (a lot of the time it wasn’t). One group of people actually seemed to be cheering for both sides, which astounded me. I have never understood people who support multiple national teams, or even multiple club teams. Maybe this is a product of my unicultural upbringing, but I feel as if supporting more than one team weakens the passion one might have for each team. And also, what are you supposed to do when the two teams play each other? “I’m happy no matter what the result is, because either way, my team wins.” I call shenanigans.

 

Growing up, I learned that America is a “great melting pot,” full of all sorts of people and cultures and ethnicities that blend together and make our great country, well… great. Yeah, that’s great and all, but here’s the problem. Soccer is a sport that has not garnered nearly as large of a fan base in America as it has in countless other countries. Citizens of Europe, Africa, or South America live, eat, and breathe soccer. Those that end up immigrating to the United States continue to support whichever national soccer team they grew up supporting. This leaves the rest of the population in the US, the vast majority of which do not like soccer or seem to feel threatened by its rapid increase in popularity as a youth sport. A small minority of people – like myself – live, eat, and breathe soccer like our foreign counterparts. This leaves our men’s national soccer team in dire need of fan support. I hope the women’s team has better luck when their World Cup begins tomorrow morning against Korea DPR.

 

Before I continue, I want to clarify that I am not trying to be offensive by profiling any group of people, just simply attempting to understand the breakdown of soccer fans. I am also making certain assumptions that cannot be proven by solid facts, so take the following with a grain of salt.

 

As we saw in the Gold Cup final, Mexican fans outnumbered US supporters almost ten to one. But this game was held in the US, smack dab in the middle of one of the most populous regions in our nation. In fact, a quick look at the 2010 Census reveals that Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the nation has relatively equal percentages of people of White and Hispanic descent, with just over 50% White and about 48% Hispanic or Latino. Pending further research, it might be possible to assume that the majority of the White people living in Los Angeles County are second or higher generation Caucasian-Americans. That is, the majority those belonging to this group were born in America and have cultural ties to America and not another country. In contrast, it might be possible to assume that many of the Hispanic people living in Los Angeles County are immigrants or first or second generation Hispanic-Americans.

 

The fact of the matter is, LA is very close to the border. Judging from past soccer games in LA County, including some that I have attended, the region houses large groups of people from nations such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and of course, Mexico. However, all of these people combined don’t outnumber the large population of White Americans. Logically speaking, a certain percentage of the Hispanic group most likely includes second generation or higher Hispanic-Americans, as the percentage of people of Hispanic descent in California has been increasing steadily over time. So, provided that all of this is true, why did Mexican fans so greatly outnumber the US supporters in Pasadena?

 

I have thought about this conundrum constantly for the past 48 plus hours. I am not going to lie, I am furious with many of my fellow Americans for not supporting our team and helping make the stadium into a home field advantage. I find it hard to believe that even the famed Estadio Azteca in Mexico City would be much worse for the US team than the Rose Bowl was on Saturday night. If only more US fans had decided to make the trip. Why didn’t they? Has soccer truly started to become a big sport in the US, or are we fooling ourselves? Why do we, as Americans, seek to dominate other cultures and countries in just about every facet of life except soccer? If I had my choice, I’d rather beat Iraq and Afghanistan at soccer than at war.

 

I can’t change the demographics of the crowd from last weekend and I can’t change the result (although I would do almost anything to reverse that scoreline). However, I can dispel some myths that American media “geniuses” such as Jim Rome have helped proliferate to ease their insecurities about soccer’s potential ability to bump one of the top three sports (baseball, football, and basketball, it could be argued that hockey has already lost out to soccer, but that’s a post for another day) from their post at the top of the American sports hierarchy.

 

Here are the arguments I generally hear when discussing soccer with my non-soccer loving friends:

  1. Soccer is slow
  2. There isn’t enough physical contact
  3. Soccer players fall down too much
  4. Soccer is boring because there aren’t enough goals.

 

If we look at the “big three” sports in America – baseball, football, and basketball – we can find one or more of these arguments in each. Furthermore, not all of these arguments really hold true for soccer.

 

Baseball – Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about, but baseball has to be slower than soccer. Every guy on the field stands around most of the time. The pitcher takes forever to deliver each pitch. The majority of the pitches don’t result in a hit. Running is a rare commodity. There is almost never physical contact unless the runner takes out the catcher. Games can last forever and have the possibility of being low scoring.

 

In comparison, every player in soccer is almost constantly moving. The field players must cover yards upon yards of ground during each game to help maintain tactical strength. The ball moves rapidly around the field. The majority of leg swings result in a kick. Each loose ball is a change for the opposition to outmuscle the player in possession, sometimes with a physically imposing challenge. Games last a set amount of time and scoring is unpredictable, but pleasure can be derived from the buildup of a play or the final pass before a shot.

 

Football – Football is exciting, yes. However, instead of constant movement, the athletes run for sometimes as little as five seconds before a TV timeout or commercial break. Granted, the quick offensive style of teams such as the Colts is much more exciting. There is a lot of physical contact, but the players wear pads. Players constantly fall down as their legs are cut out from underneath them. If we divide football scored by seven, we get numbers that are not much bigger than soccer scores, if at all. Football also features more scoring because of the nature of the game – a quarterback could launch the ball to a speedy player and score a touchdown with one play.

 

Again, soccer players are constantly moving. They wear only a measly shin guard which hardly protects from raised metal spikes and flailing limbs. Many of the falls in soccer are specifically attributed to players having their legs cut out from them.

 

Basketball – Basketball does feature constant movement, but is on a tiny playing surface, which is more conducive to back and forth action. If a player gets touched on the arm, play stops and a foul is called. This can make the game very slow, especially in the waning moments. Some basketball players, such as Vlade Divac, have been accused of flopping or embellishing contact. Basketball is perhaps the highest scoring game in America. Not only are baskets counted in twos and threes, but there is so much scoring that each point seems irrelevant. Why not start the game tied at 100-100 with three minutes left in the fourth quarter?

 

While players do embellish calls in soccer, it takes a lot more than a brush of the arm to call a foul. And even when a foul has been committed, there is this brilliant thing called advantage. This allows the team whose player was fouled to continue play instead stopping the entire play and perhaps eliminating a scoring chance for that team. Furthermore, with only one goal potentially needed to win the game, the tension during each close shot and scoring opportunity is that much greater. The sheer emotion involved when scoring a goal or conceding a goal makes soccer much more intriguing in my eyes, and to the majority of the world.

 

So before you argue these points with me in the future, please actually watch a soccer game. Don’t just watch it on TV, go see one in person. Soccer is a complex game that few if any, fully understand. Don’t cover your ignorance with the same old criticisms. And dammit, support your country.

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Comments
  1. Goalscorer24 says:

    I live in LA, and watched the game on TV instead of attending it live. Back in 2007 I attended the US vs Mexico final at the Colesium. From that experience I decided it was not safe. I could attend other games, but when it comes to US vs Mexico it is not safe to be a US fan in the stadium.

  2. […] Matt: The soccer knowledge you possess is about 1513 times mine, and I admire you for that. […]

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