• Mon, Jun 21 2010

Dear Americans, I Know You Are Only Pretending to Like Soccer

When my ex-boyfriend asked me to go to a Mets game with him, I was honest and admitted I didn’t really care for sports. “But I do like sitting outside on a nice day, drinking beer, eating nachos, and heckling people,” I told him.

“That’s pretty much what watching a baseball game is,” he said. “See you tomorrow.”

He was right – I may not have cared who caught the ball and who scored a goal or a touchdown or whatever they’re called, but I had fun. And as a dilettante, I certainly didn’t pretend to be an expert on baseball or claim I’d been a Mets fan since I was five. (Although, to be fair, the only year the Mets were good was the year I was five.)

However, not all fly-by-night sports “fans” are honest about the fact that they just got to the party. During the last week, I’ve seen regular people who don’t follow soccer and probably couldn’t name a single soccer player suddenly morph into diehard soccer hooligans who pretend that they’ve been following the sport secretly for the last ten years. I don’t suspect that all of my fellow countrymen are lying about their interest in soccer, but it seems suspect that people who have never watched a game in their lives are suddenly talking about committing suicide if Argentina doesn’t win.

For a long time, one of the hallmarks of the World Cup was that, like Eurovision, Americans didn’t really play a part. Americans have traditionally been more interested in basketball, football, and baseball than soccer. But once David Beckham moved the wife and kids out to L.A., soccer started to become something that the U.S. became interested in knowing about. I have no problem with people becoming casually interested in the World Cup and using that as a launching pad to learn more about soccer, but acting like you already know everything about it despite not being able to name a single pro team that isn’t Manchester United? Please.Yes, it’s definitely plausible that someone has an Italian dad and they grew up talking about how great the Italian team is, but if soccer were really as popular year round as these out-of-the-blue fans claim it is, we would have successful pro teams (like England does) and Univision would not be the only network carrying games on a regular basis. The people who swear they loved soccer their whole lives and just never chose to mention it until last week are the same ones who swear that they totally discovered Lady Gaga when she was still Stefani Germanotta.

Simply peppering a conversation with the occasional “their midfield is really weak” does not fool anyone. Just admit that you want to get drunk at 3 PM on a Saturday and paint your face to look like the Brazilian flag. That is totally acceptable! But claiming that you’re actually an expert on all things soccer despite never having mentioned it in your life? I’m on to you. And while you’re at it, get off my lawn.

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  • Phil Wallace

    Soccer is way bigger in this country than anyone realizes. ESPN and Fox Sports just went through a bidding war to broadcast Champions League match and Premier League games. Both networks are paying a hefty price to broadcast each. Our professional league would be stronger if it lined up better with the international soccer calendar which start in the fall and ends in the spring. Because of weather, MLS has to be mostly a summer league, so we miss out on some of the top players. But MLS attendance is very strong in numerous markets, and many cities have invested in soccer-specific stadiums. The World Cup really took off here in 1994, and since then TV ratings and interest have only increased for each successive World Cup.

    We now have a generation of kids in America who grew up playing soccer, as it’s the number-one participatory sport for children. They understand the game better, and it’s easier for them to follow the international leagues on the internet. The World Cup is only helping to fuel interest.

    • haironmychest

      Your argument is as holey as the North Korean’s defense against Portugal. How does a network bidding war translate to being big in the US? Ever think that ESPN is broadcast abroad (which it is) as well and that that may have influenced it? And saying that it is because the MLS is a summer league that we aren’t able to attract top players is downright ignorant. The MLS does not provide the competition that nearly any of the leagues in Europe and Brazil/Argentina do. The only top-flight players that do come are past their prime (Pele, Beckenbaur, Beckham, Ljundberg, now Henry) for money and to wear the mask of “doing something for the sport.” And to say that we NOW have children who grew up playing the sport??? Who hasn’t played rec soccer growing up? Anyone under the age of 40 has. It’s far more cultural than mere exposure.

      I would, however, agree that the popularity has increased and that the bidding war was representative of this INCREASED popularity, but the interest is more in drinking and thinking that one is worldly than anything genuine.

  • corporate tool

    Actually I think that Americans started to care about soccer in 1999 when our women’s team won the world cup. Brandi Chastain shirtless anyone?

    • haironmychest

      corporate tool, since when (answer: never) did a female athlete popularize a sport? That is a ridiculous statement. You may as well argue that Billie Jean King was in the driver’s seat for tennis. Americans have had many matches in which they left their footprint on the pitch (read: the shot heard round the world) but it wasn’t until the US was ranked as highly as fourth in 2006.

  • Meg1908

    Agreed! My twitter timeline is full of World Cup updates and images of soccer balls and shouts of “GOOOOAL” and talk of vevezulas and blah blah blah bullshit! WHO are these people I follow and WHEN did they become interested in soccer – is what I wonder on a daily basis.