Every four years they come out. Soccer haters and soccer apologists alike. The apologists trot out the statistics showing how many little American kids play the sport and how it's growing; and how stupid Americans are because we don't "get" the sport. The haters dust off tired cliches for their hacky editorial columns explaining how boring the sport is and since not many people follow the sport, why should they dedicate any time to cover it.
As far as I'm concerned, both sides are equally obnoxious. At a certain point it becomes akin to watching a debate between Michael Moore and Rush Limbaugh; it gets so you just want to at least stab your ears with sharpened chopsticks and, more probably, shoot both of them in their fat heads -- no matter your own ideology.
There's certainly an elitist aspect to a lot of American's interest in soccer -- the haughty tone in proclaiming one's allegiance to Chelsea is one side of the coin whose other side is NASCAR condescension. It's sort of like announcing how worldly and progressive one is -- an ideological identifier that acts as a window giving a glimpse to a lot more about the person than just "they like soccer" in much the same way that someone saying they like Sufjan Stevens tells you a lot more about the person other than just that they like the music of Sufjan Stevens. And a lot of times these people go out of their way to tell you not just why soccer is a great sport, but why you must like it
. Why it's imperative you do so. It's the most important sport in the world, and if it's not the most important sport for you than that's just a metaphor for the arrogance and stupidity of America as it relates to the world at large.
A lot of this follows Chuck Klosterman's argument against soccer in his essay from Sex, Drugs & Cocoa Puffs
. And it's the part of his argument I agree with. However, then Klosterman delves into an illogical discussion that may explain why he, Chuck Klosterman, doesn't like the sport but isn't a satisfying reason for why you, average American, shouldn't. He basically says it's (paraphrasing here) a sport that allows mediocre child-athletes to hide among the mass of legs stampeding for the ball until their parents no longer force them to play sports. He then argues the merits of baseball by proclaiming the lone batter, with all eyes upon him, is an inherently braver and/or motivated athlete by virtue of the fact they are more willing
to stand in the spotlighted batter's box. He continues in the essay by using an anecdotal tale of the Little League baseball team he coached with Machiavellan tactics one summer in high school.
Which, you know, great and all except that was one lousy baseball team and totally not representative of Baseball-with-a-capital-B as a whole. I played one year of baseball myself. They forced the coaches to play every player at least 2 innings in the field. Everyone had a chance to bat. Sounds like the wimpy democracy Klosterman attributes to soccer. Meanwhile, on my soccer teams kids were breaking legs, being benched for whole games (and likewise being rewarded for good play by remaining on the field for whole games), and forced to run laps for poor play. Sounds like the tough tactics Klosterman attributes to "real" American sports.
Sports writers across America are pretending they know who the fuck Miroslav Klose is and why Wayne Rooney's injured foot is a big deal, all while using the terms "nil" and "pitch." And they'll also, in an attempt to pretend they know what they're talking about, hype up specific players (in 2002 it was Clint Mathis. Ooohhh... look at his mohawk! Everyone knew Clint Mathis, and he proceeded to shit the bed. This year it's Landon Donovan. The golden boy who came back to America to play. Except I'm beginning to think he's the most over-rated player since Kobi Jones. The inexplicable benchings when he played in Germany for Bayern Leverkusen are beginning to be understandable). It's all such insincere sentiment. Meanwhile the rest of them spend their time publically complaining about the faux hysteria and hype in America surrounding the tournament and betraying a serious insecurity complex (if no one cares, why are you writing a column in a daily newspaper in a large American metropolis? So you're wasting your paper's space, simultaneously writing to/deriding an audience that, per you, doesn't exist?). It's a lot like that guy who suddenly, randomly, and with no provocation spouts off about gay marriage. Threatened much?
They try and claim soccer is boring. Nothing but 0-0 ties. And the players are wimpy. First of all, do you necessarily need scoring for excitement? A 0-0 game can be dull, sure, but it can also be exciting if the goalies are making brilliant stops or if shots are just barely going wide. Also, these same people enjoy baseball. Baseball is just as excrutiatingly boring on the surface. But those lulls between pitches simply enhances the drama; each pitch and swing/not swing is immediately followed by a cathartic release of pent-up tension and nervousness in players and fans alike. And then it builds up again. Likewise, I'd argue that a 0-0 game, if played well, is inherently more dramatic and interesting than the 6-5 game soccer critics would presumably like to see because each near-miss becomes so much more important. You might not get another chance. And also, like baseball, the thrill comes from the nuance of the sport. Personally I think the chess games of outfield shifts, hit-and-runs, and double-play depth up the middle but in at the corners are fascinating. When do you pull a double-switch? When do you sac-bunt? Likewise, an overlap run to the corner or a long ball switching sides to try an attack from a different angle are interesting to me. And if it was simply excitement you want, then why isn't rugby or hurling or Aussie-rules football popular in America? Because all of those games are much faster-paced than American football, way more violent and dangerous and exciting, and actually make American football players look like a bunch of pussies. (To wit: Darren Bennett, the ex-NFL punter, is an Australian who played Aussie-rules football and, when that game took its toll on his body, became a punter in the NFL. In one game I saw him play, he puntedt he ball 70 yards in the air, and when the returner made it past the rest of the Chargers and it looked like would score a sure touchdown, Bennett tackled him and momentarily knocked him out
I repeat: the fucking punter tackled the guy so hard he knocked him out.
So it's not that we don't like soccer because it's wimpy. We don't like soccer for the same reasons we don't like rugby or Aussie-rules football: we don't play them and they're less important than baseball, football, and even hockey.
Two more things. One quick: if you call soccer a wimpy sport come out on the field and play me. I'm not very big or strong, but I guarantee you I can make you limp off the field. And not even by going out of my way to hurt you. In the course of the game, I'll hack the shit out of your ankles and/or knees. So watch out. And finally, for those soccer haters who bristle against the hype surrounding the World Cup and bemoan the fact that we're forced to pretend to like the sport because it's a part of the gestalt of the world culture, I give you horse racing. No one fucking cares about horse racing except for 3 specific weeks out of the year. The triple crown races. So why is it OK to be forced to care about Bobby Bathert (or whetever that white-haired guy's name is) or whatever the horse-of-the-day is? All those people putting flowers up by Barbaro's stable? Yeah, he's a fucking horse. He doesn't fucking care. It's not a person. Despite all you equine-philes dearest hopes, those animals don't "get" or "know" or "feel" the importance of the triple crown races. They just run when they can, so please stop personifying them. Secretariat had no idea how monumental it's actions were. Horse racing's place in the American conscience is just as ridiculous as soccer's, if you subscribe to the "don't-care-except-at-specific-times" annoyance towards the sport.
So it all comes down to this: The fact of the matter is a lot of kids play soccer in America, but when they get to high school and have to focus on one sport inevitably choose football (as in, football
, not futbal
) or baseball. Or they play video games. Or just watch DVDs. Why America hasn't and will not ever
fully embrace soccer is just that simple. I played soccer for 18 years. I had Pele posters on my wall and really liked watching Karl-Heinz Rummigie play. I played indoor and outdoor; for school teams and on travel clubs; I went to soccer camps and Olympic Development programs; I won MVP awards and led my teams in scoring; I took on defensive roles and even played goalie one game. My point in mentioning all of this is not to promote my own mediocre athletic prowess, but rather to point out that I was really, really into soccer
as a kid, and I still like it a lot, but even my interest pales in comparison to the most marginally-interested Brazilian's fanaticism. Why is soccer not popular in America? It has nothing to do with the inherent nature of the game: we just don't play it. That doesn't mean we're stupid for not playing, and it doesn't mean it's a shitty sport. I grew up in Buffalo, NY, a city with a professional hockey team, professional football team, no professional baseball or basketball and no major college sports. Therefore, I love hockey and like football, don't really care too much about baseball or collehge sports, and fucking despise NBA basketball (talk about monotony and boredom in a game and a bunch of whiny cry-baby athletes, look no further than the NBA). That's how we work. With exceptions, of course, but generally it's just that simple.
So I'm going to watch every single World Cup game that I can, and I'm going to hope Freddie Ljungberg and Thierry Henry and Jens Lehmann have good showings because they also happen to play for Arsenal, the professional team I support, and I'll try and explain to you the nuances of the game in hopes you'll learn to like it.
But if you don't, that's fine, too. All I ask is you people irrationally crapping on the sport: please shut up. You have no idea what you're talking about, and your fervor only makes you look more idiotic. And you militant soccer advocates? You aren't doing yourself or the sport any favors, and the whole persecution complex thing similarly makes you look idiotic.