OK I’ll say it, I’ll be THAT guy. In the words of Eminem “I’m not afraid, to take a stand…” Hi my name is Donnie and I am a soccer fan. I love playing it and I love watching it. I’ll watch the English Premier league, I’ll watch mid-season MLS games, and yes, I’m even into the Women’s World Cup. Speaking of, the quarterfinal and semifinal wins by the U.S. women’s team over Brazil and France in the last week have tickled the phone lines at sports radio stations across the nation. However, the calls are not to congratulate the team but to debate the relevance of soccer in the U.S. They are not to break down the game tactics or talent level but to compare the sport as a whole to other major sports in the U.S. Callers, hosts, and critics congratulate yourselves. After years and years of abuse you’ve finally gotten to me. I’m sick of hearing a sport to which I dedicated most of my extracurricular time as a youth and teenager, a sport I love so much, degraded and insulted the way I’ve heard it in the media over the last few days and it’s time for me to defend it.
I am not so naive to believe that soccer is more popular than it is, nor am I sure it will ever be as popular as the four major pro leagues in the U.S., although I think it can be real competitor with the NHL. Frankly, I’m not sure I care if it ever gains that type of popularity. Also, let me just express how big of a fan I am of all of the major sports, but let’s take a brief look at the state of the “big 4″ as they stand now. You have two major pro leagues in the NFL and NBA toiling in labor disputes. Meatball sports fans and soccer haters be very proud of that. Millionaires and Billionaires drinking Cristal and negotiating from private jets on thrones of gold. Despicable. Major League Baseball has struggled to regain its popularity after the ’94 players strike and steroid era and it’s not exactly moving the needle on youth tv sets either. Just look at this year’s All-Star game. 18 top vote getters decided not to play in the game. Chicago Cub third baseman Aramis Ramirez declined an invitation to play in the game. Are you bleeping kidding me!!? He was a replacement for a replacement and a guy whose career has slid so fast he should be ecstatic about an opportunity to make himself relevant again. In the days leading up to and immediately following the game all the talk was about whether or not the game had run its course, the lack of interest in it, and solutions on how to make it interesting again. The home run derby was boring and so was the game. I don’t even know where to start with the NHL. I love it, but it continually meddles in mediocrity on every level. It has a limited fan base and the league does a terrible job at marketing its top players, promoting rivalries, and generally creating a buzz around the game. While all this is happening soccer continues to be the only sport that is GAINING momentum. Granted it has a higher ceiling at this point, but we now have television channels dedicated solely to soccer. It’s actually moving forward without the egos and labor disputes.
To the aforementioned meatball sports fans and soccer haters, let me address common statements that I have heard for a long time:
“Nobody cares about soccer:” simply idiotic, ignorant, and downright ridiculous. It almost makes this blog futile when your dealing with people who are unwilling, unable, or both to see what a great game it is. Its like trying to cure a drug addiction for a person who has yet to admit a problem. I was recently at a party on the night the U.S. men’s team played Mexico just a few weeks ago. Upon arrival and without prompting, I was greeted by multiple friends who were excited to watch the game that night. A great majority of the party was interested right from kickoff. During the last men’s world cup I remember seeing footage of fans crammed into bars across the country to watch the U.S. at the crack of dawn. People care.
“Soccer is boring to watch:” Have you seen a big league baseball game lately? Have fun dedicating 3.5 to 4 hours of your night to a game on television. When I watched the college world series this year I compared the speed of those games to that of a big league game. On average pitchers took 15 seconds longer to throw a pitch in the big leagues. It’s absolutely ridiculous! Golf, although I love it, can be a snoozer as well. The game is continuous in soccer and I would argue that there is way more action. During last night’s ESPY awards 3 of the 5 nominees for best play of the year were from soccer games. Abby Wambach’s game tying header in the quarterfinals over Brazil won.
“Soccer players are just athletes who weren’t big enough or tough enough to play football” or “Soccer is for pansies who don’t want to get hit:” Three words: We.Don’t.Care. These may be the most asinine statements of them all. Stop trying to get a rise out of us with this BS, because we really don’t give a damn. News flash, they aren’t the same game! Soccer players are not trying to prove that the game is as physical as football and we never have. We’re glad we chose to play soccer over football. Having said that, it deserves more credit for the level of physicality that it does involve. It is an incredible combination of fitness, strength, athleticism, and coordination. I’d say those are fairly important tools to being a great athlete. In fact, I would argue that most soccer players would make better football players at the skill positions than the opposite.
If soccer never garners the attention or the popularity of the other four major U.S. sports I’m at peace with that. Just remember, there IS a contingent of people who enjoy the sport and a large part of America who grow up playing it. If you don’t want to watch it fine, but stop bullying the game and it’s fans like the kid you used to shove into lockers because you don’t know what you’re talking about.
By Donnie Campbell