Saturday, July 5, 2014

Will Soccer Catch On In America? I Am Not Optimistic

Will we remember Tim Howard?
I have never watched so much soccer on television in such a short period of time.  As I have written before, I am not a soccer fan.  My interest in the game does not go much beyond my daughter's 7th grade travel and middle school team and an occasional Messiah College women's game. But this last few weeks I have been riveted to the television set and even find myself reading about the players online.

Will I continue to watch soccer on television after the World Cop is over?  Probably not.  I approach the World Cup in the same way I approach Olympic swimming. During the Summer Games I do all kinds of research on the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team.  I don't miss a race.  I watch their video parodies of popular songs.  I go online and explore the history of Olympic swimming and try to remember the Olympic swimmers that I cheered for in past Games.  (Go Gary Hall Jr. and Matt Biondi!)  And when the Olympics are over I take a four-year break from following swimming.  (Although I did follow Rowdy Gaines on Twitter after London).

Over at CNN, sports historian Amy Bass wonders if the enthusiasm for soccer generated by the 2014 World Cup will last after the international competition is over.  She is not optimistic.  

Here is a taste of her piece:

But what happens as the World Cup packs up and moves on? Will broken-hearted Americans still love soccer now?It is easy to link World Cup mania to the popularity of youth soccer in the United States. A 2007 FIFA study concluded that some 25 million American children play soccer, giving the U.S. the largest youth base of any country competing in Brazil right now. But after all, kids playing on a Saturday morning likely doesn't explain the seeming suddenness of American interest.

And we didn't see this kind of interest back when the U.S. hosted the tournament back in 1994. We also didn't see it when the U.S. women won the whole thing in 1991 and 1999 (because, well, you know, women's sports and all). And we didn't see it when the U.S. men's national team reached the quarterfinals in 2002.

So where did all of this frenzy come from? Answer: Americans hate being left behind.

Americans prefer to lead, and until now, they have been the only ones missing this global party, one where the U.S. men have yet to build a winning reputation, something central to American identity. Indeed, some think the intense focus on Brazil has to do with this unfamiliar underdog status.

And here is Bass's conclusion:

...many sports fans may not have space to add soccer into their seasonal cycle of baseball, football, and so on. Thus, the appeal of the World Cup is not necessarily the game it features, as much as the lure of the United States finally sitting at the big table, qualifying regularly, and even winning a match or two.

It is a situation somewhat akin to the Olympics, in which Americans become fascinated -- and sometimes fanatical --with curling and ice dancing and skeleton for the fortnight, but without question don't think about it again until the next one.

So perhaps unless team USA's Clint Dempsey and John Brooks get into the next season of "Dancing with the Stars," it might be four more years before America obsesses about them again.

I am afraid I have to agree.