Thursday, June 12, 2014

Soccer in America

In a guest column today in the Houston Chronicle former US Men's National Team member and former Houston Dynamo Brian Ching pens a column that is, ostensibly, about the rise in popularity of soccer in America but which is really nothing more than a veiled shot at USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann for *gasp* having the temerity to leave Landon Donovan off of the World Cup 23 man roster.  More on that later.

First, it's probably that Ching's attitude toward soccer in America is fueled by his ignorance of Soccer at the top level of club play.  Taking participation rates in leagues and trying to extrapolate it to future interest is silly. A lot of children that play Little League baseball grow up to not be fans of Major League baseball. For that matter, look at all of the children in youth tennis, then take a look at ratings for professional tennis. Clearly it's not possible to project future interest in a sport based on levels of youth participation.

The second argument that Ching makes is even more silly.  Suggesting that the MLS is soon to be a top-two league in the US is ridiculous on it's face.  MLS is possibly the worst example of true soccer in America today. It's a closed league whose business model is not built around winning, but in putting aging players with names on rosters to drive fan interest. While this might have allowed Mr. Beckham to make some more money in his career, it certainly didn't help elevate the game across the board. Again, it's impossible to look at the popularity of the Barclay's Premier League on NBC and it's affiliates and suggest that those same fans are going to accept a marked decrease in quality and switch over to MLS in the future.

Finally, I'm constantly amazed by the amount of grief given to Klinsmann over his handling of the USMNT. For a former marginal player at the International level such as Ching to question a man whose got a World Cup in his trophy cabinet simply because he likes the guy being omitted from the team is ridiculous. Hell, I'm a Landon fan and wish he was on the team but you have to think that Klinsmann is using this WC to build for the next one where he might think the US has an actual chance.

Unlike Ching's "flip a coin" theory of whether the USMNT will advance out of the group stage I will posit that the US chances are slim to none.  While slim might not have left town it is certainly warming up the engine.  If it's agreed that the US has almost zero chance of beating Germany (and they don't) then you have to hang your hopes on beating Portugal, the number 10 ranked team in the WC while the US is ranked 20th.  Every team in the US group is ranked ahead of them, with Germany being among the favorites to win. Even the 3rd team in the group, Ghana, is the team that eliminated the US in the last two World Cups.

If anything, Ching's missive proves just how big the blind spot is for Americans when it comes to the beautiful game.  For America, even the big, huge American soccer fans, the World Cup is a neat little sporting event that allows them to watch world class football once every four years. For other countries, these games played over the next few weeks are matters of national pride, reasons to emote, celebrate and even cry. The World Cup, is all.

Four years ago my team, Scotland, was denied a chance to play in this grand tournament due mainly to a dodgy call by a horrible FIFA referee and an own goal which put France, where they had a terrible WC and didn't clear the elimination round. against Spain, who then went on to win the damn thing.  I was angry for months about that call game*.  This time around the Scots were horrible, the English are ageing rapidly and I'm for the Azzurri all the way. I'm betting on Germany however, who I predict will whip the USMNT 4-0.











*As Matt pointed out in the comments, I'm not sure why I juxtaposed Ireland v. France for Scotland v. Spain in 2010 WC qualifying. Maybe I'm getting senile as I get older?

2 comments:

  1. Uhhh, don't you mean Ireland? Kind of a weird mistake to make if they're your team, but otherwise very interesting post

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  2. Really I should have said Soain., who want on to win obviously. Scotland lost to them 3-2 in a mess of a game that included an own goal, and a horrible call.

    That's what happens when you're in a hurry. Thanks for pointing it out though

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