Soccer and American Culture

Last Thursday I returned from a 10-day trip around the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Other than the ancient, Mayan ruins and the beautiful, sandy beaches I got caught up in only one thing: the World Cup. It was everywhere.

A village square in a town slightly north of five thousand was ghostly empty when we rolled into town. The cause? Chile was battling Spain, the reigning Cup champs. (Chile upset the Spaniards 2-nil.)

Towns shut-down and waiters at restaurants would deliver food and then watch for five minutes; okay, you probably get it: Mexico likes soccer.

“Soccer sucks! It’s so boring! Why would I want to watch 90 minutes of something when no one may ever win?!” – The part about watching 90 minutes and ending in a ‘draw’ still bothers me (especially nil-nil ones), but I’ve really begun to realize how great of a sport soccer is. Before I left for Mexico, if I told anyone, the only advice I would get is, “Don’t drink the water!” Thankfully, I didn’t come back with any water-borne toxins, but I did come back with an itch for soccer.

It takes teamwork, strategy, and makes nearly everyone around the world pause to watch. Even if you don’t appreciate the sport itself, the global fascination with soccer is remarkable.

Speaking from my experience in Mexico as well as in high school, soccer is on the rise. My friends like the NBA, MLB, NHL, and NFL – like “normal” American teenagers – but this World Cup has drawn all of us to the television for games that didn’t feature the United States.  Both fandom and participation are up. The United States High School Soccer Federation recently reported a 7.4% increase in youth soccer participation from 2008 to 2013. This may be because many parents are, at the recent concussive revelations, pulling their kids out of American football and giving them a new fall sport. Many teens also find baseball’s pace boring, which leaves one outdoor, mainstream sport: soccer.

Not only that, but the United States is, on a global scale, enjoying an unusual benefit of playing in the World Cup: underdog status. The underdogs are always fun to root for and they make victories more exciting (see: U.S. over Russia in “Miracle on Ice”). So even though the United States has 100 million more citizens than the second-largest country participating in the World Cup, they are at a disadvantage.

For tomorrow’s Round of 16 match against Belgium they are only spotted a 26% chance of winning, according to the Bloomberg sports bureau. The small chance of winning is contrasted with the fact that the United States has nearly 5-times the amount youth in the country than Belgium has total citizens.

Soccer Participation

Even though I’ve made plans with friends to watch and even though viewership for USA-Germany reached record numbers, some aren’t ready to accept soccer into American culture. This Ann Coulter piece is a prime example. Please read it. (Her saying soccer is “Un-American” because it’s collectivist is just like saying football is “Un-American” because a Quarterback can’t succeed on his own – he needs his offensive line.)

Her point about individual achievement not factoring into a soccer match clearly didn’t watch Guillermo Ochoa’s standing-O worthy performance against Brazil for his home country of Mexico. (Alas, my example points to a game that ended in a 0-0 draw. Nothing is perfect.)

Some also might say that soccer, the sport itself, isn’t becoming mainstream in the United States and that, rather it’s the World Cup. They may have a point, but it says something that talents like Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey hail from the MLS. (“What?! THE MLS?! That terrible American league?”) Bradley plays for Toronto FC while Dempsey runs the pitch for the Seattle Sounders and the pair of them helped the US compete with teams like Portugal who has players in the upper echelons of La Liga. Not only that, including this year, Fútbol at Fenway (hosted by Liverpool, Red Sox joint owner John Henry) has sold out three consecutive years. Soccer, yes the whole sport, may be gaining traction here in the states.

It may take some getting used to, but Ann Coulter & Co. should prepare for their worst nightmares.

 

Sam Fortier is a Freshman at Syracuse University where he studies broadcast journalism. He also searched endlessly for a “Chicharito” jersey while he was in Mexico.