Monday, May 10, 2010

So a Eurosnob & an American Soccer Fan Walk into a Bar . . .

It's 2010, it's a FIFA World Cup finals year, and, we must admit, the beautiful game has a higher profile in the United States than it ever has since appearing in Italia '90. Granted, we said that in 2006 and we'll be saying the same thing in 2014, hopefully, since there's still plenty of room for soccer to raise its profile in the United States, but that being said, it's been a good 4 years since the US National Team was knocked out of the group stage in Germany 2006.

Since that inglorious showing in Germany, the US National Team went on to win the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup and beat European Champions, Spain, in the Semi-Finals of the Confederations Cup in 2009. Additionally, American players like Stuart Holden, Ricardo Clark, Freddy Adu, Jozy Altidore, Landon Donovan, etc. have managed to find playing time, with mixed results, in European clubs.

Speaking of the club side of the sport, the past four years have seen interesting developments in Major League Soccer. Since 2006, MLS has expanded to Toronto, San Jose, Seattle, and Philadelphia, with plans to expand to Vancouver, Portland, and Montreal. Of course, the expansion to San Jose was like NFL expansion to Cleveland since the old San Jose team had relocated to Houston prior to 2006. In January 2007, MLS announced the creation of the designated player rule, a/k/a the Beckham Rule, as it announced that England National player David Beckham would be joining the Los Angeles Galaxy in July, after wrapping up the season at Real Madrid. Since 2007, the DP Rule has been expanded and the prospect of French National player Thierry Henry joining MLS after the World Cup finals is something the European press is already talking about. Finally, let's not forget the growth in soccer specific stadiums here in the United States, in a few years, only Seattle, New England, and D.C. United won't have soccer specific stadiums, with Seattle and New England being special cases cause of their relationships to the local NFL teams whose stadiums they share.

Meanwhile, since Germany 2006, the popularity of European club football has grown in the United States too. Fox Soccer Channel has seen its ratings for English Premier League matches grow to the extent that ESPN has teamed up with FSC so that it can air at least one EPL match a week. ESPN also developed a similar arrangement with GolTV so that it can air choice La Liga matches. But it's not all peace and harmony amongst the big US sports networks, ESPN saw good ratings from its coverage of the UEFA Champions League, only to lose the competition to Fox Sports, which has been using its network of regional sports stations to push the competition. On May 22nd, for the first time ever, the EUFA Champions League Final will be aired on national network television in the United States when it is broadcast live on the flagship FOX Broadcasting Company.

What's also interesting is that in the past four years it seems that two main cliques have developed among soccer fans in the US: the Eurosnobs and the American soccer fans. To be honest, for some time now, I've felt that the conflict between these two groups has been a bit contrived, a bit shallow,and while I know this fissure is not the result of some conspiracy by the soccer hating American sport fan, like Jim Rome, it does remind me of how the US Government placed the Hopi Indian Reservation so that it was surrounded by the Navajo Indian Reservation, meaning that the two tribes would focus on bickering with each other instead of teaming up against the federalies.

I for one am getting tired of the bickering between these cliques, and I want to nip this in the bud before the United States and England square off in South Africa on June 12th.

To those of you who find yourself, or put yourself, in the Eurosnob camp, fine, I can understand your desire to spend your soccer viewing time watching some of the best players, best club sides, and best leagues in the world. Heck, I watch as much or more EPL, Serie A, and FMF as I do MLS. As it stands, I'm anxious about Sunday's matches in Serie A, can the stars align giving Roma the Scudetto? And that's kind of my point, the majority of us who follow MLS and the United States National Team, and who are honest with ourselves, know that MLS is not one of the best leagues in the world. We know the quality of play needs to be improved, we know that youth development needs to be improved, and we know that, as it stands, MLS is a feeder league. We know that MLS has bizarre rules that hamstring teams in bringing in high-quality, foreign talent. As for the US National Team, we know it's not the best in the world, we know it will take a miracle and a bunch of luck for them to win the World Cup anytime soon, and we know that the power structure at USSF is a governor on the speed at which the national team will develop.

While MLS is not a top tier league in the world of club football, we can't deny the fact that clubs in EPL, La Liga, and Serie A have been grappling with serious financial issues these past few years. The MLS economic policy might not be a good deal for these top European leagues, but as James Lawton recently pointed out in The Independent, it might be a good idea for EPL to follow the NFL's lead when it comes to finances.

So, my request to you, you so-called Eurosnobs, for this summer is just relax, this isn't a battle of whose is bigger. Most of us know the score, we know the reality, no need to bash those who follow MLS or USMNT. Why would you want to emulate those in the US who ignorantly bash soccer in general with no regard to where or at what level the game is played?

As for you American soccer fans out there, let me tell you story. Over ten years ago I moved from Texas to Wisconsin. While living in Wisconsin, I was constantly accosted by Curling fans trying to recruit me to their sport. I'll be honest, the religiousesque ferocity that they threw into this recruitment turned me off and, for the most part, I steered clear of curling. Since then, I've watched it in the Winter Olympics and have grown to appreciate the sport. I regret that I never took the opportunity to learn the game while living in north central Wisconsin, but I also regret that the fans of the sport approached me as if they were attempting to convert me to another religion.

Let's face it American soccer fans, y'all can be a little pushy sometimes, like evangelicals trying to convert those they deem as nonbelievers. Recently, Travis Rodgers was doing one of his weekly spots on the Sean & John Show on 1560 The Game in Houston and he pointed out that while he could appreciate soccer as a sport requiring high levels of skill, he gets turned off by American soccer fans why incessantly try to sell the game to him. Let's face it American soccer fans, we can be a little, nay, very overbearing at times in our efforts to convert people to the beautiful game.

So, my request to you, the American soccer fan, is to just chill and relax this summer. Yes the World Cup finals can be a good recruitment tool, but please use it properly. Don't demand that your non-soccer fan friends and co-workers watch the World Cup finals. Don't try to explain to them what they are missing, and why they're foolish for not watching these matches. Instead, take the soft approach. Politely invite your friends and co-workers to drink some beer while watching a match, if they say no, politely accept their response and walk away. Don't try to shove the sport down the throats of others, just open the door for them and politely let them to make the decision as to whether they want to walk through that door.

Additionally, American soccer fans don't demand that your so-called Eurosnob fans support the USMNT or even MLS for that matter. Don't accuse them of being traitors. Feel free to hang with them at the local bar during the World Cup matches, drink beer with them, and just enjoy the moment. At the end of the day, politely ask them if they want to see some local soccer for a cheap price, don't push them, they might just say yes.

Finally, I'm declaring a d├ętente between the Eurosnobs and the American soccer fans. Give it a rest this summer, please. Accept your differences, move on, and agree to disagree. While y'all don't have to root for the same countries this summer, at the very least you can link arms and just display your love of the game, without trying to obnoxiously convert others to your way of thinking.

This could be a great summer for the beautiful game in the United States, please fans, don't shoot ourselves in the collective foot.

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