With the World Cup awing fans around the world, the United States soccer team entertained American fans that actually bothered to watch the games. American sports fans have never appreciated soccer for a number of reasons and because of their previous biases, they probably never will. The U.S. soccer team put on a great show at the World Cup, but their efforts were mostly lost on their countrymen.
The U.S. scored their first major “victory” of the tournament when they tied heavily favored England in their first match of the tournament. The U.S. came from behind to tie the game, scoring the equalizing goal when the English goalkeeper basically dropped the ball into the net. The gaffe sent American and British tabloids into a tizzy.
In their second match, the U.S. overcame a two-goal deficit to tie the game and would have won 3-2 had it not been for a blown call by a referee. The call was so bad that FIFA suspended the referee for the rest of the tournament.
With their tournament hopes on the line against Algeria, the U.S. scored a late goal to win the match 1-0. Superstar Landon Donovan scored the winning goal in the game’s 91st minute to advance the U.S. into the knockout round.
The U.S. continued to glue fans to their seats with their first elimination game against Ghana, but they could not continue their win streak. Ghana slipped by the U.S. in a 2-1 extra-time thriller.
So now after all of the excitement, what impact has the amazing run by the U.S. in the World Cup had on soccer here in the States? Absolutely none.
ESPN is no longer showing replays of Donovan’s amazing goal. Analysts and reporters are no longer talking about the World Cup on a regular basis. The fans that cared are now immersed in baseball or counting down the days to the start of American football. In a sense, the sports world has gone back to a regular summer and it is as if these exciting matches never even took place.
So why do Americans not like soccer when the rest of the world is so obsessed?
It is not that the U.S. team is bad or that Americans know nothing about soccer. Most American kids will play soccer competitively at some point, and youth soccer programs are at an all-time high.
The reason why Americans are so apathetic about soccer is simple: competition.
Soccer has to compete with football, basketball, baseball, hockey, wrestling, auto-racing and a handful of other sports. While all of those sports have caught on and gained popularity over time, soccer has been left behind. Some of the problems lie in the nature of soccer, but others lie with the American pro soccer league, Major League Soccer (MLS).
MLS has to take most of the blame for the lack of popularity of soccer in the U.S. Other professional sport leagues market their players and make them into household names, but even die-hard sports fans struggle to name American soccer players. Fans want to see Peyton Manning, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, but hardly anyone will watch an MLS game simply because Landon Donovan is playing for the L.A. Galaxy.
Along with MLS’ failure to market its players, MLS fails to market its teams. MLS is hardly ever televised, and most fans around the country struggle to name any MLS teams. Other professional sports teams are on television for every game and a couple leagues have their own networks.
In order to gain money to market their teams and players, MLS needs to put fans in seats and the way that soccer is currently played, that will never happen. American sports fans are used to seeing 200-point basketball games, amazing touchdown catches and towering home runs. Americans need to be constantly entertained, and no American sports fan wants to watch a 90-minute game where the score ends at 1-0. MLS needs to change the game to allow teams to score more frequently.
There is a simple way to increase scoring: increase the size of the goals and decrease the size of the field. These changes will produce more goals and make the game more exciting for the American fan.
More scoring and a more marketable league might not completely change the way Americans view soccer, but it definitely could not hurt. What the U.S. did in South Africa should be celebrated for years to come but because of this country’s lack of interest in soccer, a select few will remember these matches when American football starts.