The State of Soccer in the States 

The State of Soccer in the States

To the President of the United States:

Dear President Bush,

Are you like me, Mr. President? Are you sick of countries like France and Iraq and Un (where is that place anyway?) and the rest of them complaining about and American hegemony and American Idol (how can they not like that show?) and American arrogance?

Well, if you are, I've got just the policy to get those evil nonAmericans in line. It involves no bombs, no deviation from diplomatic protocol and no whining from those pansy Democrats. Plus, all it'll cost you is one of your daughters and a spot for me on Mount Rushmore. (Relax. I don't want my face carved up there-just my naked butt.)

Here it goes: Beat the world at its favorite game-soccer. There's no doubt that soccer is the Achilles' heel of the world's stubborn reluctance to accept American greatness. If the good ol' U.S.A. ever won the World Cup, we could shove all the crappy cars, mutant crops, and Hollywood schlock we can muster down the throats of every nation with them begging for more.

But unless the continents of Europe and South America suddenly disappear (don't get any ideas, Mr. President), America won't be winning the Cup anytime soon. Soccer just isn't popular enough to draw the country's top athletes-and TV watchers-away from the more blinging basketball and football.

The reason? Maybe a quick briefing on the current state (financially and otherwise) of the world's most popular game in America is in order.

The good news first. America's top soccer league, the MLS, is not in such a shambles as is its counterpart in Greece, where soccer is unquestionably number one. The top Greek league, home of Champions' League regulars Olympiakos and Panathianakos, has lost millions due to the folding of a cable network with whom it had inked a giant TV deal and a sharp decline in attendance provoked by a rash of fan violence.

But saying the MLS is better off than Greece's league isn't saying much. Sure, the MLS has a TV deal, but it's basically with ESPN2, which also broadcasts rodeo and the World Series of Poker (which is actually a really good show).

In the hierarchy of basic cable programming, MLS games are just ahead of Trading Spaces and Sanford and Son reruns. And, sure, you won't find any violence in the stands at an MLS game, but that's because all the violent drunks would rather spend their money at football games.

And don't forget that-according to all signs-Greece is about to botch the Olympics, the greatest money-maker of all sporting events.

So the MLS is in no position to brag. The league still trails behind those in Western Europe, Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico in both the quality and popularity of its soccer.

Here the MLS finds itself in a conundrum. The sellout crowds that showed for recent exhibitions by Manchester United, AC Milan, and the like played in New York and Seattle prove that Americans will pay-at least once in a while-for soccer, but only at its highest level.

America is home to Russell and Jordan, Ruth and Bonds, Montana and Rice. And as a result American sports fans are used to watching athletes that are the very best at their games. Americans don't want an inferior sports product (yet they'll watch Hollywood Squares at the same time Vertigo is on) and that is, by any measure, what the MLS is.

But the only ways the MLS can improve its soccer require money, something unpopular sports leagues don't have. If the MLS had, say, LeBron money-or even Mark Madsen money-it could try to buy some mid-level stars from European or South American clubs.

Or it could use the cash to hold onto the best crop of young players (Donovan, Beasley, etc.) America has ever produced. Instead, the league has been forced to sell its native talent to Europe. The most recent example is goalie Tim Howard, whom the MLS sold to Man U and who has gone on to supplant French national Fabien Barthez as United's top netminder. Others are sure to follow.

There is a possibility that the exodus will help the MLS. Conventional soccer wisdom says having American players compete in the superior Euro leagues will improve their skills and pay dividends come World Cup time.

MLS should have got a boost in popularity from the States' outstanding performance in Japan and South Korea last summer, but all the games were broadcast in the wee hours of the morning, placing them beyond the purview of the casual sports fans so direly coveted by the MLS.

In '06, however, the World Cup is hosted by Germany, where the matches will be played at more accommodating hours for potential MLS viewers. Should the U.S. turn in another strong performance in the Deutscheland, the MLS will need to capitalize.

Oh, I forgot. There is another soccer league in the world that is doing worse than the Major League Soccer-WUSA. The Women's United Soccer Association recently concluded a season that no one cared about with a championship that no one watched and was won by a team that no one could name for a million bucks. The league is widely expected to fold within months.

If only the WUSA could somehow return us to those halcyon days of 1999, when the U.S. women's national won the World Cup and were named Sportsmen of the Year by Sports Illustrated and Brandi Chastain and her bra were household names-hey, wait a second.

Thanks to SARS, this year's women's World Cup will be held in America again. It seems the WUSA is getting one last chance at life, so Mia, Brandi, and the rest can't blow it.

They must do two things to attract fans to their league: win and remove articles of clothing, you know, Kournakovate thing a little bit. I don't think showing a sports bra will be enough this time around. (I mean that was back in 1999, a more innocent time when Britney Spears was still a B-cup.) These trying times require nothing less than bottomless celebrants. So get those thongs ready, girls, not to mention the Nair.

So as you can see, Mr. President, the state of soccer in America is not exactly strong. And unless Alan Iverson is currently teaching his son to juggle instead of dribble, it will be quite a while till our soccer fans can stand in unison after a championship match and chant, "USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!"

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Comment I do agree. This is a holwler of an article. A classic.

Fri Aug 29, 2003 1:05 pm MST by Zennie

Comment Just want to say this is a damn funny article. My analysis will have to come after my laughter.

Wed Aug 27, 2003 9:23 pm MST by Hodaka

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