Archive for Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Fly Route

June 15, 2006

This is supposed to be the anti-soccer column.

I'm supposed to spout off about how soccer is boring and stupid, highlight-less and insane.

But I'm not going to do that.

I'm not going to call soccer a scoreless-snore fest even though the average number of goals per game was barely above two through 14 games.

I'm not going to point out that unlike other low-scoring sports like baseball, soccer is by no means a leisurely activity to play or watch.

I'm not going to point out that the World Cup is being billed as a peaceful, rift-binding event even though the sport is notorious for insane fans beating the bloody brains out of other insane fans.

I'm not going to point out that most of us non-soccer people get a little sick of big-time soccer fans bristling at the mere mention that teams tend to score by the teaspoonful. I'm not going to point out that the majority of soccer fans in the United States don't seem to care for Major League Soccer and instead explain that those that don't like soccer are unsophisticated because we don't pretend to care about a professional sports league located on the other side of an ocean.

Nope, not going to mention that. There will be no soccer jokes in this column because honestly, I don't think soccer's a joke.

Really, I consider myself fairly important to the world of soccer. I watch a lot of sports and love a few. I'm not diabolically opposed to soccer earning a larger share of this nation's attention. I played soccer as a kid, but ditched it in favor of other sports as I grew older.

It's people like me -- not the uppity Europe-first soccer fanatics -- that will really decide where this sport is to go in the United States.

If soccer can win over my group, it can enjoy an explosion in this country that would make the current rate of growth seem petty.

But I don't think soccer will ever exist as a mainstream professional sport in the United States because I don't ever see myself caring about the professional ranks enough.

There's a lot of things soccer can become, and there's plenty of room for soccer in our sports consciousness.

I think the World Cup will continue to grow in importance in the States. This year's tournament is as big of a deal here as any ever has been and I actually found myself somewhat excited when the Team USA began its first game Monday.

But for those that see soccer as the next giant thing -- a sport bound to send baseball, football, basketball running for the hills -- I just can't agree.

In 20 years, I see soccer as a sport people young and old will play and as a sport that America's televisions tune in to once every four years.

That's not necessarily a bad place to be. We are all overtaken by patriotic fervor ever four years when the Olympics come calling. That's the only time sprinting, diving, bobsledding and ski jumping earn a spot atop the headlines, but that doesn't diminish our interest come that time.

Never unseating the National Football League (the real one) or Major League Baseball doesn't mean people won't play soccer. Few consider golf one of our nation's best spectator sports, but millions and millions play each year. Even fewer watch the highest level of tennis players, but who hasn't played tennis?

Soccer is going to continue to grow in this country and when the World Cup comes back again in 2010, this year's aggressive ad campaign will seem tame in comparison.

But I don't see myself or many others giving anything short of a flying bicycle kick a second glance until then.

I've greatly enjoyed learning about the game while covering the local high school teams, and I think the World Cup is fun because it taps into the same vein the Olympics do. I think soccer is fun to play because it's cheap, accessible to everyone and simply a good workout.

And I think mindlessly blasting soccer is stupid. Soccer's growth will be one of the biggest ongoing sports stories over the next 10 years.

That doesn't mean it will ever become to America what it is to the rest of the world. And no, that doesn't make us big stupid boars. It just makes us Americans.

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