Archive for the ‘Soccer in America’ Category

Soccer in American: Creating Soccertown, USA (Part 2)

Soccertown Poll

There was some great feedback on the Soccer in America: Creating Soccertown, USA via the comments section, the poll and a blog post over at Soccer Soap Box.

The short story is that the vast majority of fans agreed that games should not continue to move around as much, but most were not enamored with the four cities I proposed (or even a “one city solution”).

Surprisingly (to me), Chicago was the “winner.” And the remaining cities (including “Other”) shook out like this:

Seattle  (20 votes), Denver (14), Columbus (12), Houston (10), New York (8),  Los Angeles (7), St. Louis (6), and then 14 other cities with 4 votes or less.

I’d be great to get some insight on all the love for Chicago. (Is it that much of a soccer town?) It is the headquarters of the US Soccer organization, but I don’t know what impact that really has on players (given they don’t train there).

Seattle is a strong contender given its support of MLS, but I’d like to see if that level of support is sustained beyond the inaugural season.

Meanwhile, in Bob’s post at Soccer Soap Box he talks about the buzz created when a USMNT match is played in your city. Buzz is great, but building fan support that shows up and creates a home field advantage should take precedence.

It is clear that there are passionate fans around the country, so perhaps a “one city solution” is a bit too restrictive geographically. However, US Soccer is doing the players on the pitch a disservice with the current strategy and should proactively focus on a few desirable locations throughout the country.

“Summer of Soccer” In the Eye of the Beholder

Meaningful or Meaningless?

Meaningful or Meaningless?

With the game at Azteca looming we are nearing the end of a great stretch of soccer in the US. If you search around the web you’ll find all sorts of retrospectives about the Confed Cup, the Gold Cup, the World Soccer Challenge, World Cup qualifying, international club friendlies and even the US Open and CONCACAF Champions League, so I won’t rehash all that. But I would like to touch on one thing I have learned watching, reading and writing about soccer this summer: sometimes perception counts more than performance (and that is unfortunate).

We are in a period in America where every result is judged not just on the quality of performance, but on how it is perceived by diehards, sportscasters/journalists, the casual fan and the disinterested American. While I don’t like it, I think it is just the reality we must live in during the current phase of Soccer in America.

Here are two examples.

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Soccer in America: Creating Soccertown, USA

Follow-up Post: Creating Soccertown, USA Part 2


What would it mean to US Men’s National Team to have an atmosphere at home like Wembley or Azteca or even Saprissa?

For the USMNT, playing on American soil doesn’t mean a stadium full of supporters. All too frequently it means that the crowds will be just less hostile than if the game was played on the home turf of their opponent. Although not surprising, it is a shame. The reasons for the home field disadvantage are many and well known, so I won’t go into those. The more important question is what can be done?

We need more of this...a lot more.

We need more of this...a lot more.

One could take the “rising tide lifts all boats” approach and assume that as soccer continues to gain momentum in the US more American fans will flood the stadiums on game day for the USMNT. However, the tide is rising steadily, but not fast. Another approach could be to creatively “direct” to whom tickets go by requiring multiple game purchases (like some NFL teams do). That wouldn’t work as US Soccer would take a hit politically as well as in wallet as attendance could potentially plummet.

I like an all-together different approach—stop moving games around. Develop the fan base in one city and designate the two stadiums in that city (the 70,000+ NFL stadium and the 18,000+ MLS stadium) as US Soccer National Stadiums. I know many of the soccer super-powers move the game around (including Brazil, Germany, Spain and Italy) but soccer is the national sport in those countries and geographically they aren’t nearly as vast as the US.

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Soccer in America: “Soccer” or “Football”

As I alluded to in an earlier post, I have decided to call the wonderful sport this blog is about “soccer,” not “football.” This is for two reasons.

1) I am a realist who enjoys simplicity. While we write for all audiences we are talking primarily about the game as it relates to the Unites States. In America there is and will only be one sport considered “football” and that is played with shoulder pads and a helmet. The modifier “American” in front won’t even fly for the NFL-style version and there is no equivalent modifier for the game that is actually played with your feet. So, why fight it?

2) I’d rather focus on the game, not the name. Attempting to call it “football” in America wastes time. Sportcasters and fans alike end up debating the name rather than discussing the play on the pitch. And there is really no need to unnecessarily bring the 800lb gorilla of American sports into the conversation when you are attempting to promote the oft (wrongly) maligned game of soccer.

It is not out of any disrespect for The Beautiful Game (or of the billions of fans around the globe that know it as “football”) that I refer to it as “soccer.” Rather it is out of a desire to help the game establish it’s own identity in America.

ESPN Hype Machine & The World Cup

Normally I abhor the routine beating of a stable of dead horses by ESPN on whatever topic they choose. However, the run-up to the World Cup might be an exception if the World Wide Leader uses the machine to not just promote programming, but to educate people on the game. Check out the ESPN’s latest WC promo, Fan Feast: World Cup Soccer, with a (marginally) tolerable Kenny Mayne.

(If you can’t access the YouTube version, view Fan Feast: World Cup Soccer at ESPN.com.)

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One topic for a future discussion and poll — “Soccer” or “Football?” My quick take: Words matter and Americans will not embrace they idea of calling it “football” with the NFL being the resident goliath of American sports. Let’s stick with “soccer” and eliminate the time wasted by sportscasters making lame jokes about “football.” Who cares if it is an American word.

Soccer in America: The Numbers Don’t Lie

Soccer is an American game, too.

Soccer is an American game too.

From time to time, we’ll discuss the state of and future for soccer in America.

65,289  &  31,087

Two numbers say a lot about soccer in America, but it may not be what you think.

These are the attendance figures for the two biggest games featuring American teams on Saturday – US v. Panama and Seattle Sounders v. Chelsea. Can you guess which number belonged to which game?

I’ll quickly end the suspense. 65K+ filled Qwest Field to watch a friendly between an EPL power and an MLS upstart while just 31K+ saw the quarterfinals of a international (albeit regional) tournament featuring a depleted national squad and a Central American team. These figures reinforce three things:

  1. People will pay to watch soccer in America (even in a recession)
  2. There is definite correlation between geography and interest
  3. Americans strongly prefer the elite levels of competition

Number 3 is the telling to me relative to the growth and profile of soccer in the US. And its implication is that all roads to elevating soccer go through the USMNT. While MLS is an important component to the overall development of soccer in America, it cannot lead the way. That is why it is vital for US Soccer continue to work hard at developing their program, system and distinct “US-style” to produce sustained success at the highest levels of international play.

I don’t expect the US to contend in South Africa next summer and I don’t expect the US to be mentioned with the likes of Brazil, Italy and Germany anytime soon. But each tournament has to be a step forward not just in results, but in the quality of play. At the end of the day, Americans like rooting for the underdog, but would much rather back a winner on the international stage.

The Quaffed One and the beautiful game

If you are a US soccer fan who has never been to Wembley or the San Siro, you may want to pick up a ticket to the forthcoming World Soccer Challenge as some rather high profile teams from the Old Country come stateside to showcase their skills, drum up some merchandise sales, and reconnect with the emigrants.

Having borne witness to Chelsea-Club America two years ago at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, CA, I came away with 3 etched-in moments of observation:

1) Upon gazing upon the field, it is abundantly clear that European–English specifically–soccer players are decidedly “bigger” than their American counterparts — obvious as football is the sport of choice across Euroland. I had no idea that Frank Lampard could double as the 49er tight end.

2) In the early 2nd half, Chelsea forward Didier “I play when I feel like it” Drogba decided to dazzle the crowd with a strike from 25 yards out. No, the shot didn’t go in, but the sound of it hitting the crossbar is one that gave the crowd a moment of pause before applause and one that I will never forget.

I am clearly more Special than you

I am clearly more Special than you

3) Jose Mourinho is a coach like no other — clearly relishing the spotlight,  preening for the cameras in either minted slacks and sport coat or tracksuit right out of the plastic–and making the game as much about him as his team.

In fact Mourinho, known as The Special One, is in for the return as his new team Inter Milan who kick off the tourney Saturday in Palo Alto about 1 hour before the U.S. takes the field in Philly.

With Club America in the house, you can surely expect some fireworks…in the stands that is. Two years ago saw the Club America superfan section lit up a blaze so bright that soccer moms nearly made for the exits.

Despite, the fireworks, the exhibition, which will see the European teams playing at about 85% effort level is a chance to see professionals manage a game who have arrived at the pinnacle of their sport with a completely different upbringing–one that favors the glory of the beautiful game and for the American youngsters out there the precision and expertise of the first touch.

If one takeaway should be made this time around, it’s watching the precision with which the Italians and the Spanish (who come in the form of Champions League hero FC Barcelona) manage the ball immediately upon reception and how that ability transcends to a different game.

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