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Here’s my number one rule of soccer. If you were born and raised in America, soccer cannot be your only sport. It’s fine to like it, and it’s fine to play it, but you must also follow at least one bona fide American sport or else you’re just a pitiful Euro-wannabe. (I might grant exceptions to particular sub-cultures on a case-by-case basis.)
Soccer isn’t an American sport. I’m not saying it’s un-American; it’s just not one of our great traditions. Baseball, basketball and football are all important parts of our culture. All in their own way provide insight into the American experience. NASCAR does that too; it’s absolutely an American sport. Hockey is less central, but living in the north I appreciate how hockey becomes bound up in a certain kind of Northern-American pride which is cultural important.
Soccer, on the other hand, is a sport that we’re famous for not playing. I think it’s interesting that Americans and Australians (who I would name as the most athletic nations in the world) are both noteworthy for their lack of interest in soccer. Like us, the Aussies don’t really need to obsess over soccer, because they have their own sports.
And their sports are better, as are ours. Personally, I just don’t think soccer is one of the world’s best sports. The reason it’s so popular worldwide is because it requires almost no equipment. Impoverished kids can play it in rural fields or urban alleyways or in hallways of condemned buildings. And they do. I’ve seen them, on four different continents. Everywhere you go, kids are playing soccer.
So I can appreciate the beauty of having a “global sport” that brings such a diverse array of humans together in the World Cup. My family did watch the U.S. beat Ghana, and my sons got excited about cheering for “our national team.” I feel like there’s a bit of family tradition there, because my Dad watched the World Cup when I was growing up. He lived in Brazil for a few years in his youth, so he always cheered for their team, and would watch the finals live at any hour of day or night if the Brazilians were in it. I also used to watch soccer frequently with Uzbek friends when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. One way or another I’ve seen a good bit, and I acknowledge that the great players have incredible body control, and that it’s fun to watch how fluidly the teams work together. There’s also a lot of nationalist pageantry to the World Cup, which I enjoy. But I still just can’t see soccer on a level with basketball, football, baseball or hockey. It’s an inferior sport.
There are the usual complaints of course. The lack of scoring. Endless running up and down the field, most of the time in vain because they hardly ever get the ball in the net. How could Americans love a game that’s so gosh-darn inefficient? Then there are those tie-breaking shoot-outs, which just seem ridiculous to me. After all that effort, the whole game comes down to this totally contrived little game? Why not play ping-pong for the win? Or just flip a coin? I’m waxing hyperbolic, but it really is a little hard to take seriously.
I also don’t like the way that soccer mostly excludes the use of hands. Hands are the most amazing of our physical tools, and sport is meant to display physical excellence. So a sport that handicaps its players from the start by barring the use of their greatest asset… well, it just isn’t going to be the coolest sport on the market. Baseball, basketball and football all have a huge edge right there.
Most importantly, though, soccer isn’t a very thumotic, or spirited, sport. Excellent sports should display strength and toughness and “grit.” I’m not saying that soccer doesn’t involve those things at all, but it’s far from superlative in any of those categories. If you compile a soccer player’s highlight reel, it looks more like dancing than a display of strength and power. Again, great body control, but not a lot of shock and awe. And in football you get the great body control and the shock and awe, though maybe not in the same players. Soccer has less specialization, which is good for back-alley fun, but not as cool on the world stage.
Is it really true that the kids are getting more and more pumped about soccer these days? To the point where, 10 or 20 years hence, we might start seeing our best athletes donning knee-high socks instead of ball caps or pads? That would be rather a shame.