Soccer in America

By Steven D. Stark


"Why can’t the United States be better at men’s soccer, just like its women, people often ask. The answer is complicated. Americans tend to excel at sports we invented, in part because the other ones all had colonialist tinges that made a new nation loathe to embrace them. We play baseball, not cricket, football not rugby, and soccer has often been known as the game of immigrants, while their children in the next generation play the more home grown games of baseball, basketball, and football.

This attitude is reflected in the hierarchy of American school sports. Throughout most of the world, the most popular sport is soccer and the second and third most important sports are soccer too. Here, the game has to compete with many more established sports. Sure many boys now play soccer but when they get to high school and college – the best athletes gravitate to the better-known sports that get all the hype on ESPN. Compared to an imaginary national team of our best football, basketball, and baseball players, the national soccer team draws far more from middle-class families, meaning there is a huge pool of great athletes who would never consider playing soccer.

The collectivism of the game is something that many Americans may have trouble grasping too. This sport relies on a group dynamic and clashes with the individualist mantra at the heart of most other American sports. There is no pitcher to pull the strings or a quarterback who can single-handedly bring the team home. With long periods of action with no breaks, it’s unlike our other games where coaches can call time outs and tell the players more explicitly what to do. In soccer, you have to create on your own.

Those long 45-minute halves can pose problems too for a culture that often seems to be collectively suffering from a national case of attention deficit disorder, Playing soccer is like writing a novel; playing our other sports is more akin to Twittering – there are bursts of action and then breaks, often long ones.

This isn’t to say the US won’t win the World Cup some day. But culturally, we’re not ready to win it now by a long shot."

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