Can Soccer Ever Be a Major Sport in the United States?

The World Cup tournament has begun and the whole world is watching.  Some sports radio talk show hosts (who shall remain nameless) virtually ignore it.  The anti-soccer sentiment is often picked up by many Americans who seem to view the sport as something little kids and "foreigners" can play but "real Americans" outgrow as they move on to "real sports." 

As a New Yorker, I see many people who are captivated by the World Cup.  When I was a kid, my dad used to take me to soccer games to watch the Cosmos play in front of sold-old crowds at Giants Stadium. 

I firmly believe that soccer can succeed in the United States -- if the American professional sports industry treated it with respect and invested in it.  Kids in the United States play soccer and love it, but then move on to other sports as they get older because there is more financial incentive to play basketball, football, or baseball. 

Professional soccer can become a major sport in America rather than the "footnote sport" it unfortunately is perceived to be.  The heyday of U.S. soccer in the late 1970s was more than just a flash in the pan, in my opinion.  It proved that crowds would show up and follow soccer if teams invested in good players.  The problem back then was that the players were big names (like Pele) but past their prime, and the initial incentive by some teams was not league-wide nor did it last.  The same problem might be occuring now with the current Major League Soccer as the Los Angeles Galaxy brought in David Beckham. On name recognition alone it was a nice marketing move.  But professional soccer in America needs to develop great young players.  Universities need to invest in great soccer programs.  The sports media need to cover soccer the way the rest of the world does, and treat soccer the way they treat the other big American sports.

It is a vicious cycle -- the American media and pro sports investors feel that Americans do not care for the sport, but many Americans do not show much interest in soccer because the American soccer athletes still are sub-par compared to the world's elite and American media do not seem to care enough to report on the sport seriously.

The argument that soccer is difficult to broadcast compellingly on television is a cop-out.  Technology today makes soccer a much easier sport to televise than hockey, for example.  I think you just need TV executives, producers, and technicians who care enough about the sport to present it in an eye-catching way, which other countries seem to manage to do. 

Imagine if American ingenuity and showmanship embraced the sport?  Of course there is a sense of hubris in the dilemma.  Soccer is a sport that America thusfar has failed to dominate, so the result is that the pundits revert to mocking it in an effort to minimize its role in the hierarchy of world sports. 

It is a shame, because soccer is a universal game that spans all ethnicities, all classes, all boundaries.  Maybe someday it will grab America's collective imagination and endure.

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