Following The Beautiful Game In The USA
June 5, 2014 12:21 PM   Subscribe

"It was the dark ages of American soccer, with the United States preparing to host a World Cup for a sport that its public had virtually no common appreciation for. Since the collapse of the North American Soccer League in the 1980s, the country didn’t even have a professional top division – Major League Soccer was a mere glimmer in Doug Logan’s eye. It was a time when the notion that airing football matches in the US could be a viable, lucrative endeavour received “zero respect”, in Keane’s words, from broadcasters. Burdened by extortionate broadcasting agreements with pay-per-view carriers, Keane would often record European matches for diehard fans who had no idea which teams won over the weekend."
posted by marienbad (21 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Amusing they have a quote from Roger Bennett given I think the tagline for his Men in Blazers podcast is "Football: Americas Sport of the Future since 1972"

Also amusing - conservatives I see on twitter who hate hate hate hate soccer. Saw someone the other day "Being a soccer fan is a repudiation of American Exceptionalism" or something like that. Which is like awesome.

I heard Obama called it Football today. Please be true.
posted by JPD at 12:52 PM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also amusing - conservatives I see on twitter who hate hate hate hate soccer.

What I find absolutely hilarious about this is that, among the guys I knew who played soccer growing up, ninety-something-percent were white, suburban and rural conservatives.

Even in my local chapter of The American Outlaws, I might be one of 5 guys who voted for Obama.
posted by The Giant Squid at 1:01 PM on June 5, 2014

I think its the "baseball is america" fetishist crowd
posted by JPD at 1:32 PM on June 5, 2014

i have a question about "the beautiful game in the USA". why is it that our women's team is able to compete at the highest international level, but our men's team sucks?

sat next to a soccer fan in a bar few months back. i asked, is it because we have other, more lucrative sports that draw the best athletes?

he said no, we have as many young soccerites in the pipeline as the other countries, it's cuz we're soft.
posted by bruce at 1:42 PM on June 5, 2014

Hey, don't blame the Baseball is America for those twits. I've got a foot in both camps, literally. My two childhood sports in the midwest. I was one of these Setana sports watching football fans in the 90s in DC, as well as playing on endless weekend soccer teams.

And now, living in London, I go to Arsenal once in a while, so its weird to see it fetishised in NYC. I coach a little league baseball team here in London, which also might be weird. We had the Ambassador out for first pitch, he's the grandson of famed academic Jaques Brazun - who said "Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game — and do it by watching first some high school or small-town teams"

Don't blame baseball, blame the endless rolling crisis in white male heterosexuality identity certain sectors of the male population express through the reptilian brain stem stimulation of right wing politics
posted by C.A.S. at 1:46 PM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Bruce, to answer your question, our mens team doesn't suck - but its not at the top level either. The difference is socio-economic. Soccer is a lower-middle-upper-middle-class sport, with historically hardly any outlets for the non-college educated to play professionally in the US

A talented 16 year old soccer player in Europe will probably transition out of education, into full time minor league training. A talented 16 year old American soccer player will probably aim to get a NCAA scholarship, where he is a full time student under the limited play of those rules. By the time they get to national team age, there has historically been much more drive and experience both in the non-American players. That is changing, but slowly.
posted by C.A.S. at 1:50 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

C.A.S that's not really true anymore. - most top tier players avoid college these days. I also don't think its the socio-economic thing as much as is often claimed because professional athletes are surprisingly middle class in background.

The real issue is that it doesn't generally attract the best athletes.

The "Soft" thing is so dumb. The US national team is always amongst the best conditioned and most willing to be physical.

"Baseball is America" people are the worst and I'll keep blaming them for everything.
posted by JPD at 1:58 PM on June 5, 2014

thank you C.A.S., but don't the same factors apply to our women's team candidates? why are they superior?
posted by bruce at 1:59 PM on June 5, 2014

Title IX gave the US a big head start on it. If you look historically there is a big relationship between gender equality legislation and the quality of womans sports. Put another way - name another major summer sport Norway is a traditional power at.
posted by JPD at 2:01 PM on June 5, 2014

There's no difference between the raw athletic abilities of the US national team and those of the ROW. In fact, that's one area we hold up well.

Its a new thing, the US roster having high school to pro players, the half of the team that is a bit older, the Dempsey/Bradley/ one, came from Division 1 soccer. In general, our players have just had less game time, less training time, less intensity in competition, at comparable ages. As you say that is changing, but only in the last decade. Within the foreseeable future, this difference will fade to negligible

There is (sadly) no real professional track for young women soccer players to leave school to in the world, so the US's (relative) gender equality in sports, and Title IX make them the experienced ones to beat.
posted by C.A.S. at 3:10 PM on June 5, 2014

There's no difference between the raw athletic abilities of the US national team and those of the ROW. In fact, that's one area we hold up well.

Fitness yes. Raw athleticism - not a chance.
posted by JPD at 3:58 PM on June 5, 2014

I'm currently reading Robert Edelman's Spartak Moscow: A History of the People's Team in the Workers' State, an excellent book, and one thing that's surprised me is that when soccer/football got started in Russia in the first years of the 20th century, not only was it because of British expats (that didn't surprise me at all) but it was deliberately made so expensive working people could rarely afford to go to games (or buy equipment)—it was supposed to be a posh relaxation/entertainment. When working-class young men fell in love with it and started making their own equipment and organizing teams, the police busted up their practices and games, not because there was any law against it but because it just wasn't right. (Today I ordered The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer, which Edelman keeps citing and which looks really good.)
posted by languagehat at 4:37 PM on June 5, 2014

Fitness yes. Raw athleticism - not a chance.

...because any American man with the raw athleticism to compete on the global level in soccer was probably channeled into another sport at a young age.

For example, High School → College Football→NFL, High School → College Basketball→ NBA, or High School/College→ Baseball.

In short, America’s athletic men are too busy playing other sports to get involved in soccer. There are 351 schools in NCAA Division I basketball and 30 teams in the NBA, 250 Division I Football teams and 32 NFL teams, MLB has 30 teams and there are three levels of professional minor leagues with dozens of teams. (Not to mention hockey, fighting sports, golf, tennis, skiing, and Olympic sports, all of which are more popular than soccer in the US)

The situation for women is very different. There are no other big sports to pull them away from soccer as there are for the men. There are no outlets for playing baseball or American football for women so they are limited to playing either soccer or basketball at the college level. I think that’s why the US women tend to do better in international competition than the US men—they don’t have as many opportunities to do other things.
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 5:18 PM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

And, also, women's soccer offers many more US scholarship opportunities than just about any other sport, with the possible exception of basketball. There are over 100 more NCAA D1 women's soccer programs than men's soccer programs, and women don't have the breadth of serious sporting opportunities at that level that men do, as Gringos Without Borders says. So soccer is a primary sport for women with athletic ability from grade school on through the USWNT, and more qualified candidates will typically mean stronger team members due to competition for places.
posted by Errant at 6:16 PM on June 5, 2014

About men's national team: Short answer: Everything other people said (esp. what GWB said) plus we haven't been doing it as long and don't have the institutions built to find and develop young talent. But a big shift is underway in that the MLS has a growing academy system.

That said, until the MLS gets rid of the salary cap (probably by raising it more aggressively before they get rid of it) it will never match the top European leagues. In football, like other pro sports, money talks in so many ways...

For the record, I started my HS football team in 1974 and saw Pele play his last season in the NASL. At the same game (in Dallas) I saw Kyle Rote, Jr. play and boyo, let me tell you the son of a famous (American) football star playing soccer??? Ridiculous. I can't imagine what he went through.

The first World Cup I watched on TV was 1978 in England and I still remember Netherlands hitting the upright with seconds left in regulation in the final (they lost in the 2 extra periods). Closest Netherlands ever came to winning the cup I believe - 3"-4" and they win. And Argentina losing the World Cup might have brought down the junta there... Life's a funny ol' thing, in'it?

Title IX didn't just help women's football though. Basketball, softball, track and field old prospered because of it. My wife was pre-Title IX and I remember after we started playing football (in my case, again) in our 40s, she turned to me one day and said: "Why didn't anyone tell me that playing on a team sport was so much fun?" :) All 3 of our kids (2 girls and a boy) grew up playing football - the youngest one started playing at age 3.
posted by BillW at 7:45 PM on June 5, 2014

This was the mid-90s, when...Nevada Smiths, the bar on Third Avenue that Keane ran, was the only place in town showing European football.
So June 18, 1994, on a Saturday morning, I was in a bar in New York city watching the Ireland-Italy game with a crowd of screeching Irish fans. Granted, I was around a big table with the owner and with my college roommate and his let's-say-cousin's band from Ireland, the Saw Doctors, so we were probably a pretty self-selected group, but there were no shortage of passionate fans there that morning.

(Whether Nevada Smith's is the place we ate, I couldn't say: we were up until the wee hours and I had slept on a hotel floor.)

- - - - -
I grew up in Minnesota and in the 1970s & 1980s, and we had pro soccer. (I recently found a scrap of paper with Alan Willey's autograph!) If you wanted it, there were live games to see. But despite a LOT of kids playing the game, the league just couldn't last.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:55 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

i have a question about "the beautiful game in the USA". why is it that our women's team is able to compete at the highest international level, but our men's team sucks?

Soccer in the US is much more of a women's sport than in other countries. At least here in Germany, pretty much every little German boy plays soccer, but girls rarely do. In addition, women's soccer has been getting some more mainstream attention in the past few years, but it is still basically considered to be a part of lesbian subculture.
posted by snownoid at 4:22 AM on June 6, 2014

That fucking $20 Setanta cover charge...paid a few of them in my time.

I play in a neighbourhood pickup game on Sundays. Mostly local parents, with a few college kids who manage to drag themselves out of bed every few weeks. Our field is by a playpark where our kids hang out while we play, so there's often lots of folk showing an interest and more and more of them have started taking part. We have 62 players on our Sportsvite list for the game and about 30 of them are active. Last week we had 18 or so turn out. 12 guys, 6 ladies. 2 of us are European immigrants, 2 South American immigrants, the rest US born and raised. From the pickup game we run 4 teams in a couple of local co-ed leagues. Those leagues have added a bunch of teams recently too. We've gone from being worried about covering the cost of the fields, to worrying about not having enough fields. In my forties here I play much more than I ever did in my 20's back in Scotland. It's a fun, relatively safe, way to get a few miles in the fat bank. It's slightly bitter-sweet, in that as more and more people come into the game my creaking limbs and sore knees get ever more exposed on the field and the end, of at least my league days, is fast approaching, but I think the growth of soccer as a recreational sport in the US is tremendous to see.
posted by IanMorr at 8:08 AM on June 6, 2014

“If you didn’t agree, it was very simple,” he says. “You got cut off.” He recalls what one Setanta Sports executive told him regarding the Irish broadcaster’s agreement with Nevada Smiths, which entailed a $20-per-head cover charge at the bar’s door that went straight into Setanta’s coffers: “You’re going to agree to it, Jack, because no one gives a shit about the fucking game in this stupid country.

Can someone explain this to me? This writing is convoluted. Who is speaking? He had to charge people $20 to get into the bar if he was going to show a game? How did Setanta enforce that? I feel dumb, but also sure that that was a terribly written paragraph.
posted by GrapeApiary at 10:10 AM on June 6, 2014

wenestvedt: "I grew up in Minnesota and in the 1970s & 1980s, and we had pro soccer. (I recently found a scrap of paper with Alan Willey's autograph!) If you wanted it, there were live games to see. But despite a LOT of kids playing the game, the league just couldn't last."

YES! The Kicks ruled. Anecdotally, my uncle brought my cousins and I to what seems like dozens of Kicks games, but was probably closer to four. Man, those were good times. Wow, the Met was a shithole by then.

I still remember how hard I hugged Mom when I got that Tino Letteri jersey for Christmas.
posted by Sphinx at 5:27 PM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

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