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Americans not interested in the World Cup? Who cares!

By Joel Dreyfuss

When the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament opens this weekend, I won't bother to read the usual stories about how the whole world is excited -- except the U.S. I promise I will not read yet another story about how Americans just don't get the beauty, the elegance and the deep strategic subtleties of soccer. And I'll do my best not to listen to the dependable pack of shock jocks who will use the month-long event as an opportunity to sneer about a) foreigners, b) guys in shorts and c) low-scoring games.

Like a lot of soccer fans, I don't care anymore that a majority of my fellow Americans will not be watching the "beautiful game" with the same anticipation and excitement shared by billions around the world. In fact, millions of us in the U.S. will be focused on every match from South Africa; millions of us will cheer the underdog U.S. national team -- British bookmakers give us a 50-1 chance of winning the tournament -- an improvement over the 200-1 odds eight years ago -- and unless a miracle pulls America into the final rounds, we'll root for France, Argentina, the Ivory Coast or another team that catches our fancy.

Like many of the most ardent supporters of the game in America, I'm an immigrant. When I go to an international match in the U.S., a good portion, even a majority, of the crowd are immigrants or second-generation ethnics: Greeks, Italians, Jamaican, Koreans, Mexicans, Nigerians, or Serbians -- depending on the location and the teams playing. My dad played in Haiti, and I started kicking a ball around there at age 3 or 4 before we moved to Europe and Africa. After we settled in America, I played on high school and college teams. I later coached my son when he took an interest in the game. I've been to see two World Cups, and I'll buy seats for any good visiting foreign team. Major League Soccer? I can't get too excited about the U.S. version yet.

It took a while, but American broadcasters finally figured out that there were economic benefits to catering to the immigrant market. This year every game will be on U.S. TV, offered in English on ESPN and ABC and on Spanish-language television. This is great progress. As late as the 1970s, you had to go on a quest to see any important international soccer match in New York, even the World Cup. My dad and I hunted down movie theaters in immigrant neighborhoods to see games in grainy, flickering images. If soccer made American TV at all, important matches were on tape delay, hours or even days after the game ended. Invariably, we knew the score before we saw the match.

The quality of soccer in the U.S. has grown vastly over the last two decades. An improving U.S. national men's team -- and the success of the women's national team (a real world power) has help build some "native" interest in soccer. Millions of Americans watched the U.S. men's team play in the quarter finals of the World Cup in Japan and Korea in 2002. But, as I said, I'm not going to fret this time that very few of my friends in New York and Washington are obsessing about Didier Drogba's broken arm or the hole in England's defense without Rio Ferdinand.

There's still a certain amount of snobbishness in following international soccer from the U.S. It doesn't rank up there with squash racquets peeking out of your briefcase, but by rooting for proper "football," you join that secret society of snobs who talk 4-4-2 versus 3-5-2 lineups and actually understand the offside rule. I have to admit, since it's gotten a lot easier to be a soccer snob, that's probably not a good thing for exclusivity. But there are definite benefits in being able to lie on your couch over the next several weeks and flip your remote between two World Cup matches.

Joel Dreyfuss is the managing editor of The Root.

By Joel Dreyfuss  | June 7, 2010; 1:46 PM ET
Categories:  Dreyfuss  | Tags:  Joel Dreyfuss  
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Comments

Enjoy your soccer (football) to the nth degree Mr. Dreyfuss but as a second generation American of Italian descent I have hardly a scintilla of interest in the game. I'll not repeat the usual American reasons because we all know them too well.

This country developed it's own games we love, baseball, probably inspired by some uninspiring British sport, football, with roots in rugby or some similar sport, and basketball which is an American original that is taking over the rest of the world, despite my placing it third or lower among my favorites.

My son has taken a deep interest in soccer in his 40s and has my grandchildren playing the game but I guarantee that it will not replace American football in his sports interest.

To most of the people I know, soccer, despite the push to make it a real major sport in this country, will never be a favorite, except as you say, among immigrants who grew up with it and their children, and even there I perceive the kids interest will be on major American sports.

So I'm glad you will keep up with the game you love, even if ,for some reason, it causes more fights and injuries, even deaths among it's fans than any other sport in the world.

Frankly, I have never played golf or tennis, but despite that these international sports are of much more interest to me when the major tournaments are played. I guess, as they say, to each his own.

Posted by: rmilitello | June 7, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

This is a superb article and catches the essence "Of the beautiful game" Yes there are problems such as "diving," poor referring and lack of technical aides which would make the game fairer. Unfortunately they have not taken the lead that rugby has, to embrace these aides which is to their chagrin. No "football" is a truly international game and the World Cup means the world (unlike in baseball!) There will be heroes and villains and actual Nations hanging on to their countries aspirations where there can only be one winner. (Let’s hope it is not Germany again!)

Yes America does have its own games born out of Europe and it is to be applauded but like fine wine they do not travel well. (The European American football league did not take off.)Yes many American football players get paid more than the top soccer players and play far fewer games but that is peculiar to here. (Also I'm convinced there would be fewer injuries in American football if no helmets were worn, as in rugby, but I digress.)

It is almost that the isolation policy of the 1930's still exists here, but hopefully the future bids for the World Cup may generate more interest, especially as the Women's team have dominated their game and beaten the world's best.

What ever your views take the time to watch the opening US game against England (the team people love to beat) on Saturday June 12th as it is truly a time when the US competes with the whole world!

Now to encourage rugby (Thank you NBC for showing the sevens at the weekend!) and of course cricket, but that is a whole new ball game!!!

Posted by: Wellhewouldwouldnthe | June 7, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

I too love the beautiful game, but I understand that some of my fellow Americans don't share my passion for the pitch.

What I don't get are those who feel the need to belittle soccer. I don't particularly care for American football and baseball where there is 3 times as much time spent on doing anything but play. I accept that many others love these sports and so I placate their love of sport as long as they allow me to wear my Real Madrid jersey on favorite football team day at work.

I just hope that the USA networks that cover the World Cup actually get some experts, and we have quite a few, rather that the sportscasters who don’t know any more than what the teleprompter tells them.

Whether it’s football hooligans or futbol hooligans, there’s enough space on ESPN for all of us even if the USA doesn’t dominate. Although if you give it a shot, you might be surprised how good our national team really is.

Posted by: hootie1fan | June 7, 2010 5:36 PM | Report abuse

If soccer fans could resist the urge to a) call it the "beautiful game" and b) mention that it's called "football" in many other countries, we'd come a long way towards acceptance here. Oh, and do something about the diving and injury faking. That's just embarrassing for any sport.

Posted by: simpleton1 | June 7, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse

Simpleton1 is truly a simpleton in my book. "If soccer fans could resist the urge to a) call it the "beautiful game" and b) mention that it's called "football" in many other countries, we'd come a long way towards acceptance here."

"football" (i.e. soccer) is played with you feet and rarely with the hands.

American football is played largely with the hands and rarely with the feet.

What's embarrassing to me is how America could have given such an name to a sport and yet still believe it makes far more sense than what the rest of the world plays.

Our arrogance as an ignorant nation is stunning...

Posted by: lightgrw | June 7, 2010 6:59 PM | Report abuse

"Our arrogance as an ignorant nation is stunning...

Posted by: lightgrw | June 7, 2010 6:59 PM"

Were you actively trying to prove my point, or are you simply so stunningly dense that you don't even realize you did it?

Soccer is just a game. It's a great game, but it's flawed just like every other. Soccer's problem is that many of its adherents treat it like the one true religion, where anyone who doesn't fully embrace it on their terms is a doomed heathen. The very notion that the entire USA is exposed as arrogantly ignorant simply for using the term "soccer" instead of "football" is mind-boggling. Does that criticism apply also to Canada and Australia? Italy? What about our friends in Latin America, who call it "futbol"? Because, you know, that doesn't technically translate to "football."

Posted by: simpleton1 | June 7, 2010 7:22 PM | Report abuse

As long as the "fans" are killing each other in senseless stampedes, I'll steer clear. Especially during warm-up matches.

Posted by: kitchendragon50 | June 7, 2010 9:54 PM | Report abuse

Sport is like food, you're imprinted in childhood and that's pretty well it. No matter how long I live on this, my adopted, continent I will loathe peanut butter, pecan pie, carrot cake and baseball and love Robertson's thick cut marmalade, Jaffa Cakes and soccer.

One of the many charms of soccer is its truly international character. All those exotic names and places. I feel a little more civilised watching it, like drinking Argentinian wine.

As a participatory sport for the young, it's hard to beat - with abundant aerobic activity and a small risk of serious injury; as a spectator sport, it may be a harder sell amongst the unbelievers. Rather than thinking nationally, why not enjoy games that resemble your favorites?
For example, ice hockey is quite similar to soccer in its format, the obvious cousin of baseball is cricket - I find them equally intolerable - and of NFL football is rugby (and CFL, of course). Basketball (invented by a CANADIAN, James Naismith, OK he was in the US at the time) is a bit of an orphan and does not excite me much - too much jumping up and down. I play both tennis and golf but try to avoid vegging out in front of the TV for the PGA events. There's something a little pathetic about watching golf, which is more of a pastime than a proper sport in my book. I fear it may be an early sign of senility so that's where I try to draw the line.

Posted by: galb | June 7, 2010 10:54 PM | Report abuse

I love conversations about which sports we should and shouldn’t watch. The author of this is dead on and the constant articles by sports journalists talking about how stupid soccer is (which are the exact same articles that are published every 4 years) are beyond outdated. Why do American sports journalists feel the need to tell us which sports we should like as Americans?

It’s like telling someone what they should and shouldn’t like to eat or which music they should like.

Who cares? Why can’t basketball fans like basketball and soccer fans like soccer without someone telling them which sport they think is better? If you are the type of person that needs to be told what to like and not to like you have places like North Korea where you would be right at home.

Posted by: Southeasterner | June 8, 2010 1:02 AM | Report abuse

Come se come sa. I'm a born and bred Jersey girl and I was playing soccer since I was 5 years old. At 42, I'm hoping I get to repeat the fun when grandchildren come and I can help coach/watch them play.

My parents also saw fit to try me on a baseball team when I was 10. I lasted all of one season. I've never liked baseball: unless you're the batter it's a slow and boring sport.

Posted by: valhkyr | June 8, 2010 8:52 AM | Report abuse

Soccer has come a long way in this country.
While I will always be a fan of American Football, the game of Soccer is climbing that ladder. I will be watching and or recording the games with you Joel!

Posted by: bertzel | June 8, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

Real Americans don't play soccer.

Posted by: battleground51 | June 8, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Like millions of my 40-something peers, I thought soccer was the greatest game when I was 12 and its popularity was at its peak.

Then I grew up -- fortunately not so much that I don't love kicking the ball around with my 2-year-old daughter.

But watch it on TV? Never.

Posted by: Ralphinjersey | June 8, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for your article on soccer. Like most Americans, I had little interest in the game until I happened to live in France in 2004-2007, and could feel the excitement as France progressed in the World Cup matches held in 2006. But I still find it a kind of monotonous game that mostly features passing the ball back and forth with just a few minutes of scoring attempts, and even less of successes.

My modest suggestion: get rid of the offsides rule. What if basketball had such a rule? There would be no fast breaks, the most exciting part of the game! In soccer, the rules penalize the players who should be rewarded, the ones who outpace the others!

Of course, American games (basketball, football) can learn from soccer too, and simply run the clock during the entire game, without those annoying last minute or last second "timeouts" that interrupt games and lead to annoying commercials just when games are exciting.

Posted by: mortholbrook | June 8, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Can't wait for the World Cup! Born and bred (3rd generation) american. Grew up playing and still watch as much on TV as I can & head out to matches as often as I can. W00T! USA!

If you don't like soccer/football/fussball/futbol - watch something else! This american 4-year fight is ridiculous. I tire of people who get into arguments over what to call it, I tire of fans who sneer that it is called football. Say it, don't sneer it. And I tire of american non-fans who must constantly put it down, because it's not american, and they don't like it.

Watch whatever sport(s) float your boat(s), and stop with the childishness.

USA! USA! USA!

Posted by: Greent | June 8, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

I grew up in Dallas, Texas... As a nine year-old, I watched from my end-zone seat beside my dad in the Cotton Bowl as the Dallas Cowboys suffered an agonizing loss to the Green Bay Packers in the 1967 NFL Championship Game. (I was likewise glued to the TV set the following year when the Cowboys fell again in the final minute to Bart Starr and the Packers at -13°F at the "Ice Bowl" in Green Bay...)

I played all the "American" games as a kid - baseball, basketball, and of course football. (These ARE 'games', by the way, and not 'sports'. They may be collectively referred to as 'sport', but the CORRECT meaning of 'sports' has to do with hunting, fishing, and the like. Whenever someone says, "He plays sports", they show TRUE ignorance - both in terms of the vocabulary of athletic events, and of English grammar in general... but I digress...)

Anyway, I'm absolutely certain that soccer / football fans all over the world can remember the classic matches, the star players, and the outstanding plays in exactly the same way that I remember those football games over forty years ago... And having moved to the UK a couple of years ago, I began to appreciate soccer / football, and truly understand its appeal. (However, I can NOT say the same about cricket - a silly game - and rugby - a great game that evolved into American football, but should have gone extinct at that point...)

I'm glad to hear that more Americans are getting into soccer... but am also proud of the great games that we've developed here in the United States...

Posted by: Guy-Hardrock | June 8, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

Anyone who actually watches soccer knows that efforts are being made to penalize dives and fake injuries. And, what other sport is played by 99% of the planet? What other sport gives you 45 minutes of action without commercials?

The USA beat Spain last year so don't rule them out.

Posted by: richn | June 8, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Soccer is a fun sport to watch.

However, it doesn't even come close to the elegance of Baseball.

Posted by: BradG | June 8, 2010 7:04 PM | Report abuse

Battleground 51 wrote:

"Real Americans dont play soccer"

Ok, so what do REAL AMERICANS play? Baseball?

Wait...50% of Major League Baseball are Hispanics born in Venezuela..Mexico..Dominican republic, Porto rico...

There are more REAL AMERICANS in Major League Soccer than in Major League baseball!

So before you spew your recist remarks at least get your facts straight! Your Beloved Baseball isnt as American as you wish it was!

Posted by: WC2010 | June 9, 2010 3:56 AM | Report abuse

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