“Made it in America,” a song released this past summer by Jay-Z and Kanye West, sums up where soccer stands in the United States. Soccer in this country has gone from a laughing stock to a sport of which the masses seem to be jealous. Even the jocks on ESPN must bite their tongues when showing a soccer highlight, either because the network has told them to, due their expansive coverage of the sport, or because they may have joined us in taking pleasure in viewing the beautiful game.
I believe it is extremely important to note that I am only in high school, so I did not live through the days of NASL, or the fear that indoor soccer would forever ruin the sport in this nation. However, I did grow up with kids screaming “GOOOLLLL!!” as if they were calling a Tigres game for Telemundo, every time they laid eyes on a soccer ball. Now, I can watch Liverpool take on Manchester City in the Carling Cup with several of my fellow students after school, those same kids who years ago mocked the sport with which they have fell in love. A few of these kids do not play soccer at all, but since ESPN picked up Premier League games, and Fox Soccer Channel went more mainstream, they have become involved in the sport simply because it is something to watch at 10:00 am on a Saturday. Nothing beats live TV for teenagers other than taped episodes of the Jersey Shore (not for me). Thus they have been exposed to the game we all love.
Soccer is not only what the young want, but also what the general population demands. It is now 2012. A mere four or five years ago, it was nearly impossible to access a EPL match in this country, at least for a 12 year old boy with parents that were never willing to shell out $15 per month to Setanta or Comcast. Since Verizon FIOS allowed viewers access to the channel based on a regular cable package, coverage has been taken to a new level. It spawned easy accessibility to the world’s best league and eventually forced ESPN to get in on the act — not only catering to US viewers, but also those in the UK. Sure the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” broadcasted World Cup matches in the past, but it was a luxury for the network, not a must. Now that the competition is highly demanded in the States, we have been treated with gorgeous HD coverage of South Africa 2010 as well as legendary commentators and analysts (Martin Tyler, Ian Darke, and Efan Ekoku to name a few), and endless access to game replays or highlights.
The history of soccer in America dates back to the mid-to-late 1800s, but the 2010 FIFA World Cup gave the sport clearance for lift-off. Of course Landon Donovan’s dramatic winner against Algeria created a bandwagon following, but one must keep in mind that ‘Cup Fever’ transferred through the remaining rounds and then some. Ian Darke’s “Incredible!” call of the American’s brilliant last-gasp goal allowed him to make his voice known to an American audience. Thus, Darke took over play-by-play broadcasts for ESPN in the US. This nation now has one of the world’s top commentators working exclusively for soccer fans Stateside. Darke and partner-in-crime Steve McManaman have created a rapport with people in the States, generating more support for soccer. The ESPN duo have not lowered their commentating standards one bit (despite being forced by ESPN to tell us the scores of other matches) and have installed a voice that resonates with Americans.
Not only has soccer made it on TV, but it has also made it in society, becoming a part of American culture. In Boston, it is very common to see a Rooney shirt, Messi kit, Donovan jersey, and even Barcelona’s UEFA Champions League Winners’ T-shirts. On the world’s most popular application retailer, the Apple App Store, FIFA 12 is currently inside the top 30 paid apps on the store. At the 29 spot, FIFA currently leads all games involving major American sports leagues with the exception of NBA Jam, another EA product. The app is 51 places ahead of Madden 12, and the game has left previously popular titles, such as NCAA Football and Tiger Woods 12, for dead. Going to a match is also extremely popular. All foreign clubs have produced major turnouts in American stadiums and those athletes whom Americans pay large fees to see every week have turned to soccer as well. Kobe Bryant has visited various European outfits and Lebron James has purchased stock in Liverpool.
Icing will be put on the cake this weekend and so will the cherry on top as a Premier League match will be broadcast live on a free-to-air American television network for the first time. The UEFA Champions League Final has been covered by “Daddy FOX” the past two years, but never has a live Premier League match been shown to all Americans with television sets. The demand is here and everything has fallen into place.
A major network wants to cover live Premier League matches, Jurgen Klinsmann — a world class player and manager — is controlling our national squad (a much better option than a former lacrosse player), British publications When Saturday Comes as well as Jonathan Wilson’s Blizzard are accessible to all with the touch of a phone’s screen. Finally, soccer has been acknowledged as a legitimate sport, erasing all previous views of, as The Fiver would put it, “soccerball,” as this mysterious game where 22 “foot-fairies” knock a ball around on a piece of grass, have been laid to rest.
From sweet Joe Gaetjens and Frank Borghi to sweet Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, soccer has “Made it in America.”