Freud: World Cup shows America’s love-hate relationship with soccer (column)
July 6, 2018
What is it with the United States?
Fear not, this has nothing to do with President Donald Trump, Colin Kaepernick or anything on the political scene.
We're talking about the country's love/hate relationship with soccer. Fox's ratings for the World Cup during Round 1 were down 27 percent. Of course, the United States didn't qualify for the tournament, which is the subject of another column sometime.
Then, there's the fact that viewers are cord-cutting and everything, except "Game of Thrones," on television has fewer eyeballs.
“For all the insular nature of our country
— if the U.S. isn’t in it, then it doesn’t matter
— and the general negativity toward soccer
— it’s boring and low-scoring
— we do love soccer as a nation.”
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Yes, a large part of the drop is the red, white and blue is flaming out in qualification.
Trinidad and Tobago has a whopping 1.3 million people and we have 325 million — makes sense. We finished behind Mexico — fine — Costa Rica and Panama in qualifying? Costa Rica and Panama? We need to stop catering to elite soccer development programs, and tap the talent of a nation. Yes, we're veering into that future column.
Yes, we do love soccer
For all the insular nature of our country — if the U.S. isn't in it, then it doesn't matter — and the general negativity toward soccer — it's boring and low-scoring — we do love soccer as a nation.
After all, this country invented the concept of the "soccer mom" as a political category because it seems everyone's kids play the game, 24 million people to be precise.
What is really staggering is that soccer is the third-most played team sport behind only basketball and football. Yes, we have more soccer players than baseball. And soccer is catching baseball in spectating popularity, particularly with the kids these days.
The United States has 20 teams in Major League Soccer with three more on the way. Most of these teams play in soccer-specific stadia, meaning that assorted cities are interested enough to have paid to construct them.
MLS games drew an average of 22,113 fans per game last summer, a number that's nearly doubled from the league low of 13,756 in the early days of the league in 2000.
TV networks are buying the rights to the sport. Fox and now NBC are carrying the English Premier League. Fox has Champions League. Fox and ESPN are paying for MLS.
Let's remember that networks don't televise things for their own happiness. There's money on the line.
And just look out the window. We've got soccer pitches out the yin-yang here in Eagle County. Yes, they're used for multiple sports, but soccer is a constant during every season except winter with La Liga on down to the Vail Valley Soccer Club.
Our most successful high school team in the county is Battle Mountain boys soccer — yes, we love you Huskies cross-country, but the black and gold 11 has been winning back to 1998. Short of people such as Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn, the best athletes around here play soccer.
Why you should be watching
To address an Americans' concern of boring soccer, there has been just one 0-0 draw (France and Denmark), and said draw makes for the fewest at the competition since 1954. So please stop with the "it's boring" stuff.
The same people saying, "it's boring," likely watched Jacksonville beat Buffalo, 10-3, and Philadelphia top Atlanta, 15-10, during last year's NFL playoffs. Just because American football awards seven points for a touchdown doesn't mean there's more scoring.
You like upsets? Germany, the prohibitive favorite, went out after group play. Argentina went meekly in the Round of 16. Brazil got knocked out in the quarters on Friday, July 6.
We've had comebacks (Belgium 3, Japan 2), shootouts (Spain 3, Portugal 3) and history in the making.
France and Belgium are already in the semifinals. France hasn't won in a generation and Belgium has never finished higher than fourth. And, yes, they share a border and a history.
Saturday, July 7's action has plenty of storylines. England, the home of soccer, is trying to shake off 52 years of futility against Sweden, another darkhorse. The second quarterfinal is Russia-Croatia. One is the host, which really has no business being in the final eight, but here the Russians are. The other is a country that is 27 years old.
Whoever wins among the six left standing becomes legend. The players would be gods in their countries. It's compelling theater.
In the meantime, maybe, the USA can qualify for 2022.
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