This past Sunday. a month-long worldwide celebration ended as Argentina fell to Germany, the 2014 World Cup champions. In the wake of the Germans’ hard-fought win, it is time to address a conversation that has been taking place all month long: Is American interest in soccer about to boom or will interest fade now that the World Cup is over?
I’m no sports forecaster, so I won’t pretend to know whether or not national interest will expand. Instead, I’m going to explain why your interest should increase. Yes, you specifically.
Fern has already written about our wonderful travels in Brazil following the US Men’s National Team. If you haven’t had a chance to read that, you definitely should. We had quite an interesting time, but it was all worth it each and every time we took our seats at a game. That is reason number one why you should become more interested in soccer: the game experience. I have attended major league games for every American sport multiple times. I’ve seen Peyton Manning lead the Colts to amazing come-from-behind victories in my hometown of Indianapolis. I’ve seen the Cubs (actually) win from multiple views in beautiful Wrigley Field. I’ve watched NBA games that I didn’t care about, and Indiana University games that I did sitting on the wooden bleachers of Assembly Hall. All of these games, and I can truly say that none of them compare to the atmosphere of a soccer game where the US is playing.
Even a friendly, or a game that doesn’t matter for you non-soccer people, can be intense and captivating. One of the major complaints of soccer is that they don’t score enough, and most people cannot fathom the idea that a game can end in a scoreless tie and be interesting, but I disagree. In basketball, a basket comes every few seconds or maybe a minute if it gets a little slow. Therefore, the baskets don’t tend to be celebrated as much. Baskets are the expectation, not the exception. As a fan, instead of being happy about a basket, most tend to get upset about a miss and you end up with more negative emotions than positive ones until the end result.
In soccer, because the goals are so few and far between, it creates a sense of euphoria that I can only assume illegal drugs can give. The excitement and celebration in the crowd of a soccer team that just scored is unlike any other sporting event. I have been picked up, tackled, thrown, cried on, spit on, spilt on, and countless other things after a goal. Very few other things can even begin to compare. Now I realize there are sometimes events in other sports that can be just as exhilarating: last second three pointers, a Hail Mary in the last minute, a ninth-inning grand slam to win. Most times fans have to wait till the end of a game for those emotions, in soccer it could hit you any time.
Other parts of the atmosphere are incredible, too. Fans’ costumes, as you may have seen displayed wonderfully through the Japanese fans dressed as geishas, the Netherlands fans’ bright orange, or America’s own Teddy Goalsevelt are an awesome addition. The songs and chants that each team brings along can be heard throughout the entire stadium, adding to the anticipation. Now, I should make mention that I am not suggesting you should abandon all other sports for soccer. I’m just suggesting you should maybe think about moving soccer up on your sports radar.
The next reason you should get more excited about soccer is patriotism. I realize that there are many local MLS and NASL teams around the country that you can (and should) support, but for a minute, I’m going to focus entirely on the US team. As a nation, we can get pretty patriotic about our sports, especially come Olympic time. However, our Dream Teams only get to dominate on a world stage once every four years. While the World Cup also only occurs once every four years, our USMNT plays other national teams multiple times each year. The Gold Cup happens every two years, where we get to face other North and Central American teams including our great rival Mexico’s El Tri. Friendlies happen both domestically and abroad quite a few times a year.
Opponents of soccer will talk about how they don’t want to watch it because we aren’t as dominant as we would be in American football, for example. While this is true, this is a major reason we should pay more attention to soccer. The more attention a sport gets, the more young players want to be like those sports heroes. Can you imagine how strong a national team the US would have if our greatest young athletes gave soccer more of a chance? What if Adrian Peterson had decided to be a striker? Or what if we put LeBron in as a goalkeeper? It’s easy to claim world dominance in a sport we made up. What would happen if we were to dominate in a sport that isn’t inherently ours? We owe it to the country to become more interested in the world’s game.
The last reason you should start paying more attention is because the players deserve it. I mean the players on all levels. We put a lot of emphasis on being athletic and conditioned, and there are few other sports where the players are pushed as hard as in soccer. Other sports might be more demanding in one area over another, but none mix speed, endurance, athleticism, grace, and power like soccer. Yes, there are drawbacks that the players bring on themselves. The flopping gets out of hand and the rules on what’s a penalty and what’s not can be very fuzzy sometimes, but when you really look at what the players do on the pitch, you have to admire the hard work and effort. They play harder, longer, and more intensely than most, and that alone deserves our respect.
The World Cup is over. ESPN has mostly stopped coverage of soccer stories and focus has returned to baseball season, upcoming football preseason, and LeBron’s move home. But I ask you, when you get a free moment, tune into an MLS game or maybe mark your calendar for the next US friendly versus Ireland in November. Or, if you don’t want to wait to see world domination, watch a US Women’s national team game where we already smoke the competition. Whatever you do, get more excited about soccer.