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Doug Farrar
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Doug Farrar

A FootballOutsiders.com staff writer

Familiarity Breeds a Disconnect?

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I remember watching the excellent documentary, "Dare to Dream", about the U.S. Women's National Team that won the World Cup in 1999. This team of talented, tough, mesmerizing athletes were establishing themselves as the best in the world in front of 90,000 people at the Rose Bowl. I remember thinking, "If this doesn't bring soccer to the forefront of American sports, nothing will."

And it didn't. The Dream Team broke up, Mia Hamm's now as well-known for marrying Nomar Garciaparra, and competitive soccer has been relegated to what it had been before -- a tremendously popular sport to play across the nation, but not the kind of thing that could compel a vast viewing audience to pack in front of their hi-defs and shell out major dollars for tickets on a regular basis. Pro teams have been tried, and they can be successful in certain markets, but the sport is still a long way from baseball/football/basketball Axis of Power. The Women's United Soccer Association gave it a go with the best the nation had to offer, but lasted less than two seasons and posted losses of over $100 million.

I think there are several reasons for the gulf between America and soccer. It's possible that people find more spectator sport value in the activities they can't do. Kids play soccer all over this country, and though they also play the sports they watch on television and in stadiums, there might be a great deal more rarity in the ability to throw an NFL touchdown pass or hit a 450-foot home run. Tennis has had great runs of popularity in America, but it's always tied to the ascent of compelling personalities. Golf was considered a fringe sport before Tiger Woods showed up. We wonder why soccer isn't much more popular when everyone plays it? That in itself might be the reason.

By Doug Farrar  |  June 26, 2009; 11:47 AM ET  | Category:  Doug Farrar , NFL Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Soccer is UnAmerican | Next: Structure v Fluidity. Grit v Pretense.

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Doug, your argument doesn't really make sense. How many of us have played touch football at a picnic or with friends? Most people I know have played baseball or softball on a team, even if it was as a kid. I don't know a single person who hasn't played basketball from time to time. Baseball and basketball, in particular, have organized youth participation levels as high as soccer.

When we (meaning, us average schmoes that work at a desk rather than in a stadium or arena) play any sport, we're all playing at an extremely low level. The soccer everyone plays as kids is as far removed from USA-Spain as the local game of tee-ball is from a night under the lights at Fenway.

To say that people only find spectator value in the things they can't do implies that what we saw the US do against Spain was something any of us can do. That is wildly untrue. Your examples of things that are difficult (TD pass, home run) are indeed things that no regular person could pull off. However, what regular person could have shrugged off a superbly fit defender, spun, and hit a shot (with their less preferred foot) that a) fooled arguably the world's best goalkeeper into leaning the wrong way and b) is hard enough that said keeper can get a hand to it but not keep it out? What regular person could have the tactical awareness to defend as assuredly as Onyewu did? What regular person could make the spectacular saves Howard made?

Posted by: Chest_Rockwell | June 26, 2009 4:26 PM

Why did everyone think the Women's World Cup was a big deal? It was not.

AND it's only those without a knowledge of world football, namely the American sporting press that thought it was a big deal.

ALSO, why is basketball a big deal then?

I award you no points, but you get a ribbon for trying.

Posted by: arswift24 | June 26, 2009 4:28 PM

Women play soccer?

Posted by: Hoost | June 26, 2009 8:00 PM

""To say that people only find spectator value in the things they can't do implies that what we saw the US do against Spain was something any of us can do"" Maestro Rockwell.

Doug, don't take this the wrong way, as I'm not svelte, either . . but from the looks of you, you couldn't pull off a Charlie Davies (he's the starting forward for the U.S.) Rainbow Kick without needing major back surgery thereafter.

Posted by: delantero | June 26, 2009 9:59 PM

I don't buy the argument but I think there is something to the fact that the certain "things" that football, baseball, basketball and other sports players do are more identifiable than soccer.

Wide receivers have a specific responsibilty and job to do. Same with pitchers and hitters. Jobs that are obvious with a start and finish. Soccer flows and doesn'st stop all theh time. And there are 11 people running around, often overlapping positions.

There's not the same sense of specializiation or identification of what it is that makes a soccer player "special." What are the specific skills that differentiate a striker and a midfielder, especially if they switch positions during the game?

That, and a lack of statistics about players, which Americans love so we can rank things (our truly favorite pasttime), is why I think that soccer doesn't so easily translate all the time.

My two cents.

Posted by: jethronilsen | June 27, 2009 4:56 AM

First, please FACT CHECK!!! Are you a journalist or what (oh wait, you're a sports journalist? Never mind). The WUSA played THREE FULL SEASONS! And the WASHINGTON Freedom (our local team!) WON the championship in the final season.

NONE of the women I know, young or old, think of Mia Hamm as the wife of Nomar Garciaparra. That might be true of overweight baseball fans who don't know women's sports exist, but not of anyone who follows soccer.

The WUSA failed because of flawed financial planning, not because of lack of interest from the fans.

As for your argument, I assure you that my high school kids and their many soccer-playing friends, watch the pros and try to imitate their individual flair and dissect their tactics.

If you soccer-hating sports writers would get out there and try to do what the pros do -- a Cruyff or a Maradona or a sombrero -- to confuse a defender and then shoot on goal, you would get an understanding of why soccer is so dominant in the world.

Posted by: hyds | June 27, 2009 9:55 AM

First, please FACT CHECK!!! Are you a journalist or what (oh wait, you're a sports journalist? Never mind). The WUSA played THREE FULL SEASONS! And the WASHINGTON Freedom (our local team!) WON the championship in the final season.

NONE of the women I know, young or old, think of Mia Hamm as the wife of Nomar Garciaparra. That might be true of overweight baseball fans who don't know women's sports exist, but not of anyone who follows soccer.

The WUSA failed because of flawed financial planning, not because of lack of interest from the fans.

As for your argument, I assure you that my high school kids and their many soccer-playing friends, watch the pros and try to imitate their individual flair and dissect their tactics.

If you soccer-hating sports writers would get out there and try to do what the pros do -- a Cruyff or a Maradona or a sombrero -- to confuse a defender and then shoot on goal, you would get an understanding of why soccer is so dominant in the world.

Posted by: hyds | June 27, 2009 10:00 AM

Golf is still a fringe sport.

Posted by: Jeffreymsoltz | June 27, 2009 10:08 AM

I think the previous comments miss the point of this post. Kids play dodge ball. They play softball. They bowl. And they play soccer. And none of those sports are big spectator sports in the US.

Soccer, whether you like it or not, has become another youth sport in this country. Obviously kids around the world play it, but since it's such a structured thing here -- never a pickup game, always in uniform -- it's a childhood game that we outgrow as we get older. You play soccer as a kid. You watch American football as an adult.

Posted by: simpleton1 | June 27, 2009 1:09 PM

"That there soccer is a communist sport. Down here in Alabama, we raise our boys to be men, not a bunch of sissies. We don't want our kids growing up to be a bunch of ballerinas. Hey Jethro, how many free textbooks would you give to a college soccer player? Really, we don't the budget for soccer. All of our free textbooks go the football team."

Posted by: EliPeyton | June 27, 2009 3:24 PM

Yeah, soccers so easy to play that why the top players get so little money...oh, wait.

Is this "dumb yank" season in the WP?

Posted by: blucey | June 27, 2009 4:28 PM

Yeah, soccers so easy to play that why the top players get so little money...oh, wait.

Is this "dumb yank" season in the WP?

Posted by: blucey | June 27, 2009 4:29 PM

There seems to be a knee jerk reaction on the part of a lot of American sports writers to come up with half baked reasons why soccer won't catch on in the US.

This is just another lazy argument- people prefer to watch sports they can't do? Shouldn't the same also go for basketball? I'd say Americans play a lot more b-ball than soccer, and are much better at it, but this somehow this doesn't turn people of the NBA. This argument seems to have about one minute's worth of thought put into it.

Posted by: urtosi | June 27, 2009 10:33 PM

"Mia Hamm's now as well-known for marrying Nomar Garciaparra"

Mia Hamm is one of the best women footballers in history. I've never heard of Normar Garciaparra. Who is he?

The typical sports writer in America thinks David Beckham is best known for marrying a Spice Girl.

It's so embarrassing being American -- too often.

Posted by: ram_xxx_ram | June 28, 2009 8:24 AM

No offense, but if you've never heard of Nomar Garciaparra then you're not qualified to critique American sports culture. You should be embarrassed, but at yourself.

Posted by: simpleton1 | June 28, 2009 4:31 PM

That's why American Baseball and American Basketball are SO UNPOPULAR. So many kids and adults have played them for year. Riighht!

Posted by: diamond2 | June 28, 2009 4:48 PM

That's why American Baseball and American Basketball are SO UNPOPULAR. So many kids and adults have played them for year. Riighht!

Posted by: diamond2 | June 28, 2009 4:49 PM

That's why baseball and basketball are SO UNPOPULAR in the United States. That's because kids and adults play the game.
Oh sure!

Posted by: diamond2 | June 28, 2009 4:51 PM

"Kids play soccer all over this country, and though they also play the sports they watch on television and in stadiums, there might be a great deal more rarity in the ability to throw an NFL touchdown pass or hit a 450-foot home run."

Man, you're really phoning it in, aren't you? Kids throw footballs all across the country, but there's a "great deal more rarity" in the ability to kick a World Cup final-winning 40 yard free kick.

Leaving the junior high-school level writing, this really is some sad stuff here.

Posted by: antontuffnell | June 28, 2009 8:10 PM

No offense, but if you've never heard of Nomar Garciaparra then you're not qualified to critique American sports culture. You should be embarrassed, but at yourself.

=========

I've heard of Nomar Garciaparra. He's the guy who married Mia Hamm.

Posted by: ram_xxx_ram | June 28, 2009 8:41 PM

No offense, but if you've never heard of Nomar Garciaparra then you're not qualified to critique American sports culture. You should be embarrassed, but at yourself.

=========

I've heard of Nomar Garciaparra. He's the guy who married Mia Hamm.

Posted by: ram_xxx_ram | June 28, 2009 8:41 PM

No offense, but if you've never heard of Nomar Garciaparra then you're not qualified to critique American sports culture. You should be embarrassed, but at yourself.

=========

I've heard of Nomar Garciaparra. He's the guy who married Mia Hamm.

Posted by: ram_xxx_ram | June 28, 2009 8:42 PM

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