by Jordan Katz
These days, you always hear discussion of “when will soccer become more popular in the USA?” This constant question particularly rings true during and after a World Cup in which America’s obsession over sports and blind national pride in any kind of competition collide and create avid support for the national soccer team. The 2010 USA-England group stage World Cup match had Americans tuning in that couldn’t tell you what a corner kick is, or which country Chelsea FC plays in (England, in case you’re wondering at home). But as soon the world cup is over, ESPN goes back to obsessing over Tim Tebow, or Jeremy Lin, or whom or whatever is the present sensation in sports and forgets about that silly game that only most of Europe and South America play and which is the most popular sport in the world
But suddenly it seems like, maybe, just maybe, soccer has finally hit some real popularity in the USA, or at least it has for me. Why you may ask, person who is actually has so much spare time to read this? The FIFA video game series, American stars playing for European teams, and an increasing amount of airtime devoted to soccer are the three biggest factors for this rise in popularity.
FIFA 12 provides a way for Americans to understand the ins and outs of the game. While Madden is king of the domestic sports gaming world, FIFA 12 is the global king. FIFA 12 provides sort of an introduction to real-life soccer, as you are able to play as and control such internationally renowned teams such as FC Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United (Man U), learning about the goal scoring skills of Lionel Messi, Christiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney respectively. This, in turn, promotes curiosity, thus the next time you’re flipping through the sports channels and you see Man U playing, you’ll be more inclined to watch as you recognize them from playing with them in FIFA 12. You’ll start to feel somewhat of a connection, as playing with the virtual players translates to wanting to see them in real life, thus creating more viewing interest.
The second major factor is Landon Donovan, Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey. America’s three best players, all currently in the English Premier League (EPL), and all doing well. You know another thing America loves besides foods that make them obese and complaining about the current president? Seeing other Americans succeed in other countries when they aren’t usually expected to. What these three have done is show that America can send players over to the perhaps the finest soccer league in Europe, and play with the finest from South America and Europe, with a dash of Africa and Asia thrown in there. Dempsey scored a hat trick on January 21 versus Newcastle, the first ever by an American in the EPL. Landon Donovan has yet to score a goal in his 7 games with Everton this year, but has performed well and has assisted with several goals. Tim Howard has been the goalie for Everton for several years now, and is regarded as one of the league’s best. It provides a good story for channels like ESPN to tell: Americans succeeding in the one sport they’re not expected to succeed in. It’s beyond soccer almost, and reaching political. Those three are ambassadors for America in a way that no one in a suit and tie could do: entertain and enlighten. They represent America through soccer on one of the biggest stages you can find in England; soccer.. It provides national pride. People are more inclined to watch soccer if they know they can see fellow Americans playing on the global stage and representing well and that leads to more people watching and discussing the games.
To help fuel these first two reasons, soccer is being televised live at a growing rate. Fox Soccer Channel is available for anyone with a good sports cable package. Despite the fact they never talk about it, ESPN does show soccer regularly on ESPN2 on Saturday mornings, showing some good games from England. A defining moment in soccer on American television was Fox broadcasting live the Manchester United-Arsenal game, which had 1.3 million viewers nationwide on January 22. This was followed up on Super Bowl Sunday with an absolute classic of a game that showed the excitement of soccer to America, a nation that thinks soccer to be nothing but boring for the most part. Chelsea and Manchester United, two of soccer’s elite meeting on TV for a national audience. The game looked as though it would be nothing more than a total and complete domination of Chelsea over United. The Blues led three-nil with only 40 minutes left to play, but then Man U came roaring back in a fashion like only an elite club such as Man U can. They were awarded two penalty kicks and the aforementioned Wayne Rooney scored on both to make it 3-2 in the 69th minute. Javier Hernandez put the finishing touch on the epic comeback in the 84th minute, gave Man U a shocking3-3 draw, or tie. It was the perfect game for American audiences, because of one thing: offense. America as a society has a very short attention span, and the last think they want is a 0 – 0 (or in soccer terms: nil-nil) draw. They want offense, excitement, something that captures their interest pretty quickly and miraculously holds it. Goals do that. It presented everything that was exciting about soccer, and America ate it up, and left them hungry for more.
What will happen in the future to soccer in America, we do not know. But with the trend currently happening, the future is very bright for the beautiful game.