World Cup: Talking Soccer with an American Sports Fan

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For the final U.S. game against Ghana, I decided to drag along one of my non-soccer-loving friends to get his take on the game, the atmosphere, and the World Cup in general. I promised I wouldn’t put his real name in here, so let’s call him….Claude. Wow, that was fun. No wonder Adam started to get a big head in Eden, getting to name all kinds of stuff like that. Anyway, Claude is an old-fashioned, 50s-era-music-loving, baseball fan. He’s so anti-progressive he thinks the Beatles ruined Rock & Roll. Ok, that might be a cheap shot, but hey, I’m the writer, and he really does think that about the Beatles (yeah, I know, right?).

Anyway, the point is, Claude represents a lot of Americans when it comes to soccer. He’s ignorant of many of the nuances, but knows the general set-up and rules. He thinks it’s anti-American (more on that in a second), and he doesn’t like the soccer fan base. He also thinks large stretches of the game are boring, and he’s sick of ESPN’s determination to stuff the World Cup down the throat of every American sports fan. Fortunately, he doesn’t represent the vitriol often associated with the anti-soccer crowd. Claude doesn’t enjoy soccer, but he doesn’t hate it. We had a nice chat while enjoying the U.S.A.-Ghana game, and I’ve framed some of the main points here. Since I was watching the game, I didn’t feel like recording him, so Claude’s comments are not direct quotes. I’m writing this, so of course my responses are.

On Rules:

Claude: Ok, offsides isn’t just stupid, it’s socialist. If somebody gets wide open like that, they should be able to score. It’s just another example of why soccer is un-American.

My response: Endearing take, but if offsides is socialist, aren’t all rules? I mean look at the NFL, they can’t even line up in certain formations. NBA players can’t stand in the painted area for more than 3 seconds. These are just rules that improve the game by evening the playing field for the offense and defense. Despite what Americans might think, there is such a thing as too much scoring, if it isn’t quality stuff.

On the American squad:

Claude: I can only name one player. Landon Donovan…Oh wait! And the goalie. He has Tourrets, right?

My response: Let’s just say you can only name one American player. But, yes, the American goalie does have Tourrets. A woman standing near me at the bar thought her bf/ husband was playing a joke on her for like ten minutes after he told her this. Of course, I once convinced my fiancé that the third Manning brother was mentally retarded. Yes, I’m a terrible person.

On the actual game (and its popularity):

Claude: I’m not saying anything new here, but I think soccer is boring. Obviously, there’s not enough scoring. The only reason soccer is so popular overseas is because it’s the only option. Whenever people are given another choice of sport, they choose it. In other words, world powers don’t embrace soccer. Poor countries embrace soccer, because it’s a game that can be played by almost anyone.

My response: I knew we’d get to the “boring” argument eventually. Let’s tackle the scoring thing first. If pure scoring is all that makes a sport great, then the NFL wouldn’t be the most popular sport in America. Maybe tennis would. After, all points are scored like every 30 seconds in tennis. At least soccer is honest about its scoring. You can only score one way and only one point at a time. The NBA and the NFL inflate their scoreboards by offering 2, 3, even 6 points each times somebody scored. I love the NFL as much as the next guy, but everybody can admit that just high numbers on the scoreboard isn’t what makes it great. The moment when the ball goes into the net isn’t the only exciting moment in a soccer match. Let’s quantify excitement by the number of “Wow!” moments in each game. Soccer can easily match up with the number of NBA “Wow!” moments, and it blows MLB out of the water (or rather, knocks it out of the park).

As for the second argument that soccer is only popular with people that don’t have an alternative, I think there’s a tiny bit of truth there but also a lot of fallacy. It’s true that soccer is a sport popular in poorer countries partly due to its accessibility. Obviously, all you need for soccer is a ball and a goal. Actually the ball is also optional, because people have been known to make them out of rolled up socks, balls of tape, and anything else they can get their hands on. Baseball and basketball definitely require more equipment, and football requires a more oddly shaped ball. However, this fact doesn’t diminish the sport in any way, and it’s ridiculous to claim that soccer is only played in poor countries. The only three countries left in the World Cup (Netherlands, Germany, and Spain) are all considered relatively wealthy nations and are all members of the European Union. It’s also not true that countries that like soccer only play soccer. Rugby is popular throughout Ireland and the U.K. They also play forms of football in Ireland and Australia. Cricket is also hugely popular throughout large parts of the world, and basketball (as seen by players like Pau Gasol, Yao Ming, and Manu Ginobili) is growing in popularity throughout Europe, South America, and Asia. Finally, the television ratings for soccer are astronomical worldwide (I read somewhere that the draw for the World Cup has more viewers than the Super Bowl), so the people that like soccer must have access to television.

On Soccer Fans:

Claude: My problem is that most American soccer fans actually hate our country. I don’t just mean they hate us for not liking soccer, I mean they actually hate us. I know plenty of fans in New York (where Claude goes to school) who sit around and talk about everything that’s wrong with America. Also, soccer fans do act like Americans are stupid for not embracing the “World’s Game”).

My response: All right, I don’t know anything about soccer fans actively hating America. I’ve loved soccer since I was little, along with many of my friends, and we’ve never found our love of soccer and our love of our country to conflict in any way. Just as a point of interest, many of the American team’s strongest supporters overseas are often American military personnel stationed on nearby bases.

As for the soccer-fans-are-snobby-jerks argument, there’s probably a little validity. Here’s the thing, I’ve been made fun of, mocked, and dismissed athletically by plenty of my peers since I was in elementary school for playing soccer. I’ve heard soccer is gay, that it’s a sport for wimps (actually, nobody uses that word, but I’m not sure what my language limitations are here), and simply that everybody hates it. Please excuse soccer fans and players for being a bit defensive. We don’t mean to act as if we’re in on this great secret that everybody else is too stupid to grab onto, but it’s hard not to act that way when everyone’s been telling us what losers we are for liking it in the first place. How about, everybody just gives soccer a fair chance, and we’ll stop acting like pricks, deal?

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