Soccer haters unite! The game is un-American

As something more than a casual soccer fan, I've heard it all from the soccer haters in America who, for whatever reason, simply don't like the game. I've given up trying to convert them and now, acknowledge that for many Americans, soccer is not their cup of tea.

So be it. But if you're going to try to convince a soccer fan that the game is un-American, it might be well to know a little something about the game. This detestable, and ignorant screed from Politico's Stephen Webb is riddled with falsehoods, inaccuracies, and downright stupidities as he tries to explain why soccer is supposedly so unpopular in America.

Sports are a reflection of national character and aspirations, and it is no coincidence, I think, that soccer has had a hard time catching on in the United States. Simply put, soccer—call it “football” if you must—is a tragic game, and thus it cuts deeply against the grain of the American ethos. Americans are an optimistic people. We like scoring too much to enjoy a game that is more about preventing success than achieving it.

Webb is too late. Soccer has already caught on in America. Wikipedia:

The largest category of soccer in the United States in terms of participation is boys' and girls' youth soccer. Soccer is one of the most played sports by children in the United States. In 2012, soccer was the #4 most played team sport by high school boys, and soccer overtook softball to become the #3 most played team sport by high school girls.[54] As of 2006, the U.S. was the #1 country in the world for participation in youth soccer, with 3.9 million American youths (2.3 million boys and 1.6 million girls) registered with U.S. Soccer.[55] The number of high school soccer players more than doubled from 1990 to 2010, giving soccer the fastest growth rate among all major U.S. sports.[56] In recent decades, more youth sports organizations have turned to soccer as a supplement to American football,[citation needed] and most American high schools offer both soccer and football in their fall sports seasons. Due to the rising number of youths playing, the term soccer mom is used in American social and political discourse to describe middle- or upper-middle class suburban women with school-age children. Americans between the ages of 12 and 24 rank professional soccer as their second favorite sport behind only American football.[57] And in 2011, the FIFA video game ranked as the #2 most popular video game in the country, behind only Madden.[58]

You can get your head out of the ground now, Mr. Webb. It's safe to come out.

To the American mind, the only time games are supposed to be tragic are when we lose in a sport we love in the international arena. A real sport, like hockey. Otherwise, Americans should be able to make progress in any game, overcoming obstacles, changing rules, buying the best players. That has not happened in soccer because the design of that game has old-world values written all over it: Individuals should not try to stand out from the crowds, one group should not have too many advantages over another, drawing attention to yourself is distasteful, and so on. The tools of your trade shouldn’t be too splashy, either—why use your hands when your feet will do?

What planet is this guy from? International soccer changes rules all the time and is this guy so oblivious to what goes on in the pro game that he doesn't know that it is routine for the very best players in the world to switch clubs? Here's a link to the ESPN Transfer Center that gives the lie to Webb's ridiculous clam.

Although Americans love games that highlight individual performances—and the more the better—soccer seems designed to minimize their frequency. How many times during a baseball, (real) football or basketball game does someone do something that is utterly transcendent in its expression of skill and strength? Many times. Such moments of beauty are the main reason we find sports so attractive.

In soccer, however, these performances are more like an accident than a natural part of the so-called beautiful game. Fans keep their expectations so low that they are actually surprised, really surprised, when someone kicks the ball in an inhumanly perfect manner. And if the perfect kick does not go in the goal, well, that’s not surprising at all. Soccer thus appeals to the pessimist, the person who wagers that it is better to avoid disappointment than to demand too much joy. In other words, foreigners.

I became a soccer fan in the 1980's when I lived in Washington. The pro team in DC was the Washington Diplomats and for a couple of years, they featured an aging, but still effective world class superstar named Johan Cruyff. Cruyff was voted the best soccer player of the last 50 years of the 20th century and there was a very good reason for that; he could do things with a soccer ball no one else could.

He could, with great consistency, be running down one sideline and kick the ball with unerring accuracy all the way across the field to hit a teammate sprinting down the other sideline. He would hit him in stride, delivering the ball with jaw dropping skill. I saw Cruyff score from midfield when the goalkeeper started to run up to cut off  the angle. Cruyff simply lifted the ball over his head with enough pace on it that the goalkeeper couldn't get back in time.

In baseball, a player gets a gazillion dollars if he hit safely 3 out of 10 times. A defensive end in football is paid 10 times his weight in gold if he sacks a quarterback, who might drop back 30 times, twice in a game. Fans will pay a lot of money to see those feats and we thrill to a player's talent and ability. But are these occurrences of athleticism and skill any more regular in American sports than soccer?

Pele's famous bicycle kick, scoring with his back to the goal was something of a trademark for him. David Beckham's free kicks curled so beautifully into the net from 40 yards out. It is routine for individual stars in soccer to perform shocking feats of skill and athleticism. An "accident"? Perhaps before he pens his next ridiculous critique of soccer, Mr. Webb should watch a game or two.

He's missing a lot.



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