The Pulse of America’s Love Affair with Soccer
At a time when the USA fails to qualify for the FIFA World Cup, it is almost embarrassing that the sport’s popularityh is on the rise in America. As we brace for a World Cup in Russia without the love of America’s nationalistic soccer fans, I wonder if this will be a test of our devotion to the game of soccer.
Soccer — What is happening at home?
MLS Commissioner Don Garber has worked tirelessly to build the Major League Soccer (MLS) into a strong and viable professional soccer league and finally, attendance is averaging 22,000.
While this attendance figure may pale in comparison to Europe’s packed stadiums where 75,000 fans passionately scream in support of their team, the remarkable news is that, according to Associated Press, for the first time in its history this season, the MLS is now ranking among the top seven leagues in the world — in terms of average attendance.
While soccer spotlights may now permeate our consciousness in ads on the TV and happy family pictures, today’s most elite youth players still prefer to play abroad.
Why? Perhaps because of the quality of the game or because the American soccer culture is still not vibrant enough to compete with the focused talent flourishing abroad. There is just not enough opportunity here yet. The question lingers – would Pulisic be where he is today if he had stayed in the USA?
But Soccer is Still Growing in the USA
Next year will be the kick off for the highly marketed LAFC, the newest West Coast MLS franchise based in Los Angeles — and more clubs will be announced soon. While no other MLS franchise ownership has the star power of LAFC, there is a total of 22 MLS teams now with several cities battling to join the ranks of a soccer metropolis with bids willing to pay the outrageously high entry fee of $150 million.
Will San Diego receive an MLS franchise or will it be Sacremento? Perhaps Charlotte or Phoenix. There should be an announcement soon but the problem is lackluster TV ratings — and TV is the heartbeat of the financial sports world.
According to AP, while fan interest is booming, “viewers averaged under 300,000 for nationally televised regular-season matches, fewer than the average for a New York Yankees game on their regional sports network.”
Is the problem our failure to qualify?
“We need to use this failure as a wakeup call for everyone associated with the sport at all levels to ensure that we have the right processes and mechanisms and development programs and leadership and governance in place to learn from this missed opportunity to ensure that it never happens again,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said this week.
“Part of the maturation of becoming a soccer nation is recognizing that qualifying for the World Cup is not a birthright,” said Garber.
“It’s something you need to earn, and we are unfortunately in the company of some great soccer nations, like Italy and Holland and Ghana and Chile — Copa champions — that have also not qualified.”
The USA should take solace in the fact that Italy failed to qualify this year — and they have actually lifted the World Cup gold four times.
While this may be little consolation in a time of our national soccer distress — it can help put perspective on Garber’s statement that playing in the World Cup is not a birthright. After all, it was Paul Caligiuri’s famous “Goal that was heard around the World” that earned us the right to get back into the World Cup after a 40-year drought.
Soccer Fans — What Can We Do?
While today’s generation may have grown up in a world where the USA was a minor contender at the World Cup, we strive — as a country to be better. Our American Spirit will rise up as we forge our way to becoming a real-world power on the soccer field but what is important is that we — soccer fans — turn on our TV and help the ratings before we lose those important dollars.
We will Rise Again.
But — at the moment, here is a flash back to Caligiuri’s famous goal: