Opinion: Soccer won’t be a major sportPublished 6:18am Monday, June 16, 2014 Updated 8:18am Monday, June 16, 2014
It happens every time the World Cup rolls around.
There’s always a panel discussion on why Americans lack interest in soccer. There are always soccer enthusiasts who say the explosion of youth soccer, and the influx of immigrants, will mean soccer inevitably become a major sport in the U.S. There are thoughts that, once that happens, the U.S. team will become a soccer power.
Yet, it never happens. I have my doubts it ever will in my lifetime.
I have had a few soccer moments over the years. I remember watching the North American Soccer League playoffs between the Minnesota Kicks and New York Cosmos in 1978, when the Cosmos won in a shootout. I remember Kicks players Tino Lettieri and forward Allan Willey, and of course, Cosmos’ star and perhaps the most famous soccer player ever, Pele.
When I was 8 years old, I was watching every sporting event the television offered. (Based on my daughter’s media consumption habits, I now understand how that could be.)
Like every other sport, I learned how to play soccer, dribbling in my yard, kicking the ball against the house wall, and playing games with neighborhood kids in our back yards. In high school, we had a regular weekly game. It was great fun, and a lot of great exercise, because in soccer, you’re basically running all the time.
In high school and college, we got into the hacky-sack craze, kicking around that stuffed, soft mini-ball between groups of three or four people. I never became good at that activity, and it wasn’t due to a lack of time dedication.
More recently, I signed my daughter up for youth soccer. She preferred to practice her dance moves in the middle of the field rather than chase after the ball. Her soccer career ended after one season.
Fergus Falls has had a few good soccer teams over the years. Hillcrest and Pelican Rapids have had some good teams too, mostly because the two schools enroll far more foreign-born students than Fergus Falls.
Every four years, I at least make a stab at watching a World Cup game or two.
But for all my dabblings in soccer, I just can’t get into it the way I follow American football. I don’t get the strategy, and while the skills of the players are impressive, it’s hard to distinguish the great players from the average ones.
When I watch American football, I value an 80-yard run by Adrian Peterson, or a 12-play, two-minute offensive drive, or a sack by Jared Allen. I can recognize a bubble screen and a cornerback blitz, and know that the Vikings’ Tampa-2 defensive scheme, or at least poor execution of it, played a significant role in the defense giving up five game-winning touchdowns in the final two minutes last season.
When I have vacationed in Mexico, we were near soccer stadiums during matches, and it was obvious the fans coming out of the stadium could rattle off similar types of details about the game they were watching. The looks on their faces (and their painted faces and T-shirts) said the game wasn’t a novelty to them, but a passion. When I was in Scotland, the newspaper sports sections blasted soccer results in huge headlines, with massive photos. Newspapers don’t play stories like that unless readers think they’re important. Believe me when I tell you this.
As for the immigrants in the U.S., the advent of the Internet and satellite television means those born in a foreign country can watch and follow the teams from their home country, far more interesting than a soccer game in a U.S. professional league.
Soccer enthusiasts in positions of power would like to see soccer become as big as the NFL in the U.S. If American football is banned one day because it is too dangerous — and someday, that may very well be — then soccer almost certainly will grow immensely in popularity.
But unless that happens, I’m not sure there’s room for soccer in the hearts of Americans.
Other than when their 9-year-old child is playing the game, of course.
Joel Myhre is The Journal’s Publisher. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org