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Why Soccer Has Made It In America

“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.”

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  1. TOGID

    January 21, 2012 at 9:57 am

    “Why are we so obsessed with soccer becoming popular in America? ”

    Because we are fans of the USMNT. And the USMNT’s success hinges on good players. And having lots of good players hinges on having a strong and broad soccer culture.

    That’s why. An American soccer culture that remains “underground” will be one that is forever shuffling out of the bar pissed and grumbling that we lost to Ghana yet again.

    So… it’s pretty simple.

    • The Gaffer

      January 21, 2012 at 9:59 am

      Well said!

      The Gaffer

  2. Yodster

    January 21, 2012 at 7:03 am

    Why are we so obsessed with soccer becoming popular in America? It has a solid, passionate, “underground” fan base right now and I honestly don’t want to see that change too much. Too much exposure and popularity will just bring on fair-weather fans and bandwagon jumpers. America is good at ruining these sorts of things.

  3. John

    January 20, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    All good points, I think what everyone has missed is that the kid writting the article is in high school
    and is popular amongst the younger audience or the future audience. They are the ones to take
    soccer in america to the next level. They are most likely the 2nd generation of kids whose parents played
    soccer and are growing up playing and watching. My 7 & 4 yr olds know more players in the EPL, La Liga
    and MLS then they know football, baseball, basketball players. The kid is right also about seeing more and more soccer jersey’s being worn around town. I see them all the time.

    Soccer might not have made it, like NFL made it, but it is growing and the next generation will continue to grow the sport and the next one after. MLS has only been around for 16? years, Man U was founded in 1870. It takes some time.

  4. Nonsense

    January 20, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    Made it? Do Americans watch soccer more than football, basketball, or baseball – no. There is always heavy interest during the World Cup however that fades fast. Access to watch the Prem league among other leagues has made significant strides and increased popularity however you cannot claim soccer has made it in America.

    • The Gaffer

      January 20, 2012 at 3:10 pm

      I understand what you’re saying, but when would you say that soccer has made it in America? What watermark is there when you can stand up and say those words?

      The sport in this country already gets larger average attendances than the NBA and NHL. Tournaments such as the World Cup, Euro Championships and Champions League Finals get significant viewing audiences, often dwarfing the World Series and NBA Finals. So what does soccer have to do to prove to you that it has made it in this country?

      The Gaffer

      • Nonsense

        January 21, 2012 at 1:36 pm

        I dispute the fact that the average MLS attendance is larger than that of the NFL or NBA.

        The World Cup gets a larger viewing audience than say the World Series because the U.S. has people living here from all over the world. They view events like these not necessarily because they are interested in the sport or that it has ‘made it’ but for Nationalistic pride – including Americans. Ex. Landon suddenly scores in the WC and Americans are interested because they feel their country may win something.

        • The Gaffer

          January 21, 2012 at 1:41 pm

          I never said that MLS has better average attendances than NFL. But I did say they were higher than NHL and NBA. If you don’t believe me, read this:

          As for your second comment, “The World Cup gets a larger viewing audience than say the World Series because the U.S. has people living here from all over the world.” That’s true, but you could say the same about the World Series.

          The Gaffer

          • Nonsense

            January 23, 2012 at 9:32 am

            The World Series is regional/state which would exclude those viewers who only watch sporting events based on Nationalistic reasons. Where as the World Cup, Champions, etc are International events which include viewers from different countries in America watching/attending purely out of Nationalistic pride (this includes Americans themselves). There is no tie to soccer having ‘made it’ when viewership or attendance for these events aren’t necessarily based on the love or interest of the sport.

  5. maw4bc

    January 20, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Just wanted to comment on how much I love Ian Darke and Steve McManaman. They are just incredible together. Blows Fox Soccers coverage out of the water.

  6. brn442

    January 20, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Oh, that sickening feeling I got when Bush said “mission accomplished” on that ship, 8 years and thousands of lives too soon. I’m getting that feeling again.

    Soccer has made wonderful strides the past year – matches broadcast (mind you – only the EPL) on network television. The CL final (moved to Saturday) continues to grow exponentially as an American pub fixture is also encouraging.

    However, soccer has a way to go to say it has “made it”. It’s no where near to the other “big 3” sports in the zeitgeist, especially amongst the non-immigrant urban and inner-city populous. You yourself said: “Even the jocks on ESPN MUST BITE their tongues when showing a soccer highlight” – that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of an organic cultural juggernaut is it?

    We’re in field goal distance fella, don’t fumble the ball just yet.

  7. Guy

    January 20, 2012 at 10:03 am

    I never get too excited about soccer’s prospects in the USA. They are improving and that is good. I basically take Paul’s view….minus the Arsenal thing 😉 Having said that, you make some good points. I find your stat about FIFA 12 particularly interesting.

    • Fairchild

      January 23, 2012 at 8:16 pm

      Over the weekend, FIFA 12 jumped 10 spots to #19, surpassing NBA Jam.

  8. Paul Cass

    January 20, 2012 at 9:27 am

    Good stuff. As long as Soccer (Football) is popular enough, that’s all I really care about. As long as it’s popular enough for all the games I care about to be shown somewhere – FSC, ESPN, Free-to-Air or wherever. And we have reached the stage where it’s easier for us to see many games than it is for fans in the UK.
    So, as far as I’m concerned, we’ve already made it in America.
    Everything more is gravy. We’re on the way up cos the demographics are on our side!

    Up The Arsenal, BTW 😉

    • Warren

      January 20, 2012 at 7:15 pm

      I was going to make the point about the demographics too.

      I live in a part of Chicago that’s very diverse (it’s apparently one of the most ethnically diverse neighbourhoods in the US) and every day for the last 2.5 years I’ve walked past a park that has 3 baseball diamonds and a basketball court. I’ve never see either of those used to any great extent (the diamonds never, the court virtually never) – all that gets played in this park in any organised way is football (soccer) and occasionally volleyball.

      In fact, just this past summer they grassed over one of the 3 diamonds.

      I don’t believe football has made it in the US just yet. European football (mostly EPL) is close to it and even in my brief time in the states I’ve seen a significant increase in knowledge of, and interest in, the game. But MLS is pretty much considered 3rd rate, I’m sorry to say. It would be nice to see the US game improve, but I think that’s a way off. Personally, I’d be a bit more interested if they dropped the playoff system and went for simpler league structures, but I guess that’s because I’m used to it.

      Like you, though, Paul I’ll be happy just as long as they keep showing the EPL matches live on TV!

  9. Taylor

    January 20, 2012 at 8:41 am

    It depends what you mean by “make it”. Has the sport become marketable enough ? Yes, has the sport become the career path ? Probably no. But has the sport become more popular ? Definitely.
    I probably look at 1994 World Cup as the clearance for lift off. I vision of hiring Bora Milutinovic was one of the best decisions USSF has made plus the performance of the USMNT was not disappointing either.
    Let’s hope soccer can go to the next level.

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