Are we in a golden era for American soccer?

29 06 2011

I watched the first half of the Seattle Sounders-Kitsap Pumas U.S. Open Cup match Tuesday evening via the Sounders web site’s video stream.

That morning I watched the U.S. women’s team beat North Korea, and the day before that I saw Mexico and England play in the Women’s World Cup.

Soccer seems as ubiquitous as baseball right now with the NBA and NHL playoffs and season over. In America alone, the Gold Cup just ended with 93,000-plus fans at the Rose Bowl, Major League Soccer is in full swing and a bunch of international friendlies involving English Premier League and other top European teams are coming to the U.S. next month.

The U.S. Open Cup is in the quarterfinal stage, even if it isn’t on TV until the final. Fox Soccer Channel and several Spanish-language channels show plenty of games (I’m fortunate to have both Telefutura and Galavision), and those you can’t see are often available over the Internet. The sport is everywhere, even here in soccer-desolate Phoenix, where two Mexican teams, Club America and Morelia, are soon to play in the biggest stadium in these parts.

Sign that the CA-Morelia match is going to be well-attended… I got an email recently from S.A.F.E. Management, the company that oversees stadium operations at University of Phoenix Stadium for NFL games and other events, calling for people to work at the stadium as ushers and support staff. Crowd control and stuff.

The point here is that no matter what the naysayers who still like to take potshots at the Beautiful Game say, soccer is as big as it ever has been in the U.S. today. And when I say U.S., I included the millions of Mexicans and Mexican Americans and other Latinos in this country who support El Tri and Central American teams with a fervor and a passion. Just check the Gold Cup attendance numbers from the 2011 tournament.

I watch at least three MLS games per week, and while we who are more than the casual observer know where the big attendance numbers are and which clubs are the most consistently well-supported (Seattle, Portland, for example) and which aren’t (FC Dallas as an example), I honestly think that even casual fans like what they see. Approachable pro athletes who actually enjoy hanging out with fans and talking to the media. Supporters groups with their own sections for the most devoted. There’s nothing not to like about MLS, except for the occasional sketchy officiating. But that’s part of every pro sport, right?

It’s a shame that there are so many empty seats at Pizza Hut Park for FCD. It’s a good team with several very talented players and it is in contention for the postseason again. As nice as the stadium is, though, it’s too far away from Big D the city and being in the ‘burbs doesn’t help. Neither do hot north Texas summers.

That said, it’s clear that the addition of the two Cascadia clubs, plus a new stadium in Kansas City and pretty affordable ticket prices across the board (still) have made soccer a more worthwhile and interesting option for fans. Heck, the game only lasts two hours. You’re not there all night and the clock keeps running.

Maybe it’s just me, but interest in the U.S. and Mexican national teams always seems pretty high, at least among my circle of friends. And I know I’m not alone. Why do you think Mexico plays so many friendlies in the U.S.? The FMF knows it’s going to get big crowds. That should be included as part of the boon of soccer in the U.S., even if it is another national team. The matches are played here and people go to them, Mexican or not.

ESPN shows matches. MLS Matchday Live isn’t too expensive. You can watch a match, live or on replay, any time of the day.

I got hooked for good when I got my first digital cable subscription, and I was all in after trips to Europe when I thought more about how I could get to a match then going to see paintings and sculptures. I’m even going to see matches in Philadelphia next month, for no other reasons than just because.

I know it’s only a matter of time before the game takes off here in Phoenix. Yes, I know its 112 degrees outside these days. But someday, it will happen. Someone will find the right situation and strike a partnership with the right people to bring the game closer to home for me. It’s already being talked about now.

For now, I’m happy to see as much soccer as I can from my couch in my air-conditioned living room. Sometimes I have the computer and the TV on showing different games at the same time. It’s a great time to be a soccer fan in America. And there’s plenty of room on the bandwagon in this country.

Shame we didn’t get the World Cup in 2018 or 2022. But that’s another story…














2 responses

8 07 2011
John Bladen

Well said, Jose.

The game may still be a mystery to many, but it is as strong as it’s ever been in North America. Add to that, it is being managed by MLS in such a way that I believe it is here to stay this time.

I’m not sure if/when it will join the ‘Big three’ as a major North American team sport (in the revenues/tv contract sense), but it’s closing the gap. More than that, it’s sustainable – something I’m not sure the NBA in it’s present incarnation, is.

8 07 2011
central harlemite

John, soccer is larger than ever in the States. I think in many ways the NBA and NFL lockouts will help MLS, but hurt the overall sports environment far more. Also, I disagree with the idea that MLS is closing the gap, that gap is far larger economically than you make it seem.
I agree that it is sustainable, but I would hope it learns from the NBA and NFL on how to rank clubs themselves in terms of their financial output and reflect in the grade of ranks abilities with players and trades and media outlets. what do you think?

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