WSJ on Soccer in America

Most people – well, most blog-reading soccer fans – have seen the Wall Street Journal article called “Are Americans Becoming Soccer Fans?” since it has been pretty well shared by now.  There were a number of points raised that caught my attention.   Some were border-line insightful, others confusing but most were just plain annoying.

This article highlighted that we struggle in the US to keep different (potential) fan bases in mind when discussing how to move forward.   There are those who are:

A) MLS Fans

B) Soccer players who are not fans

C) Those who are not (never were) fans or players

D) Soccer fans that are indifferent (or worse) to MLS.

We could break each of those groups down further (might be an interesting exercise), but both within the WSJ article and in general we don’t distinguish between the non-MLS-fans enough when making generalizations about what is “needed.”

Either way . . . here are my thoughts.

Quote:  “When it comes to sports, one of the stubbornest examples of American exceptionalism is the use of the word ‘soccer.’”

Bob says:  Can we please just let this go already?  Let me know when reigning World Cup champions Italy apologizes for calling it ‘calcio’ . . .  Besides, the word “soccer” comes from the UK anyway, so ‘exceptionalism’ is a bit hard to argue.

Quote:   “. . . game’s third most important international trophy, the Confederations Cup.” 

Bob says:  Really? Maybe FIFA has that in official documents somewhere?  Gross over-simplification does little to impress a reasonably educated soccer fan base.  Outside of the World Cup there’s an argument about the ranking of other international competitions.   European Championship?   Copa America?  Africans Cup of Nations?   Youth (U-20) World Cups?  Olympics?   Add international club competitions in and it gets even more confusing . . . I’d say UEFA Champions League is more “important” than many international (Federation) cups.  

Quote: “To be a soccer fan in most of the world is to abandon simplicity and yield to a global alphabet soup of federations, associations, leagues, competitions and cups.”

Bob says:  For non-soccer fans this is indeed a hurdle.   Doubtful that it is a hurdle for soccer fans that haven’t warmed to MLS . . .

Quote:   “You must have a league that is credible,” Mr. Blatter, of FIFA, said of the U.S., which doesn’t even hold its season when the rest of the world does. “You have good players, but you must keep them here.”

Bob says:  Isn’t our league credible now?  Who owns the definition of credible Mr. Blatter?   If your sentence started “You have a credible league, now . . .”  — wouldn’t that have made it so?    The development of stars would be helpful – but where we are today, can you be a star unless you’ve earned your stripes in Europe?   Alternatively . . . the Dutch, Brazilian and Argentine leagues (just to name a few) all lose their best players to other countries as a normal course of business.  Are they not credible leagues?   And, for the nonsensical refrain that the US “doesn’t even hold its season when the rest of the world does” . . . wow, that’s our silver bullet?   More January games in Chicago and New England?  Compete for attention during the heart of the NFL season?  Hardly.

Quote:  “In many ways, the greatest danger for America’s domestic soccer league is the changing nature of the world. The global sports-television market now allows avid fans in the U.S. to ignore MLS and instead follow the world’s best teams from afar.”

Bob says: This is a big challenge for winning over those who are soccer fans, but not MLS fans.  (I didn’t call them Eurosnobs, but I could.)   Maybe back when half the country was going crazy and French Fries were becoming Freedom Fries, we should have changed MLS to the Soccer Freedom League or something . . . perhaps people would have been guilted into loving the American product.   Anyway . . . in reality, many MLS fans like the soccer of the best European and Latin leagues, so this should be something we can figure out . . . if the quality of MLS continues to improve.

Quote:  “We’ve seen what happens and the excitement it generates when the national team plays deep into an international tournament,” Mr. Garber said. “What we need is one of our clubs to do the same thing against the best foreign clubs, and we’re probably a little ways off from that.”

Bob says:  This is perhaps the line that interests me most, since Mr. Garber knows that structurally this is nearly impossible.   The league is DESIGNED for parity.   That means, for one team to be good enough to win consistently against the best foreign competition, they all need to be good enough.   That is a long way off.    Heck, if our teams had the resources (roster size, salary cap) to compete with in-season Mexican and Central American teams on a regular basis in meaningful competitions, that would be a start . . . and would catch the attention of a latent soccer-loving-MLS-indifferent audience.  (Latinosnobs?)