Allow me to first make myself clear. I don't hate soccer. I certainly do not like soccer, but "hate" is not exactly the right word. I don't hate it. I just don't buy it. I never got very much into it as a kid, and at my ripe age now, there probably isn't much hope (kind of like how I am with Star Wars, sorry John). A big part of it stems from my growing up in a decently yuppie town and going to school with kids who thought they were tough shit because they played soccer, even though the truth was that 80% of them wished they could play football but their parents wouldn't let them. From an early age, soccer became known to me as the sport you played if Mom was too scared of you getting hurt if you strapped on the good old helmet and shoulder pads. I have many reasons for my disregard of soccer, ranging from the gameplay itself, to its fans, and to greater societal implications drawn from its following here in the United States. While my viewpoint may be somewhat unpopular right about now, just hear me out.
Part I - The Game
I'll start with the on-field stuff. Does it take a tremendous amount of skill and athleticism to play soccer at a high level? Of course it does. However, does that fact alone obligate me to take an interest in the sport? There is also a tremendous amount of skill on display in a sport like archery, as well as an insane amount of toughness and conditioning on display in MMA, but that doesn't mean I'm making plans to watch either of those anytime soon. The issue here is that the display of skill in soccer pales in comparison to the display of skill in the sports that are prevalent in America. Tell me, do you see anything on a regular basis in soccer that is on the level of hitting a 95-MPH fastball, threading the needle to a receiver in traffic while getting your clock cleaned by a 280-lb defensive end who runs a 4.5 40, draining a 3 with a 6'6" defender's hand in your face, snatching a 90+ MPH slap shot out of the air with the glove hand, or sticking a 190-yd 5 iron six feet from the pin? Sure, there are diving or leaping saves and well-executed sequences of passes and shots, but how often do you get those - once or twice a game? The other 88 minutes amount to a ballet, and on a side note I think I prefer ballet costumes to the stupid sponsored jerseys that professional soccer teams wear. Call me a curmudgeon but I kind of like the outlandish idea of a team's uniform prominently bearing the team's name or city.
Contrary to popular belief, the lack of scoring in soccer is a non-issue to me. I love low-scoring baseball games and even low-scoring football if it's played crisply. It's not the lack of scoring in soccer that irks me, it's the lack of structure. Two of my three favorite sports (baseball and golf) are often derided (by soccer fans, ironically) and labeled "boring" for their deliberate nature. But let's be honest, soccer ain't exactly a 10 on the heart-thumping scale either. The pace of soccer is so monotone, it allows for very little of the dramatic buildup you get in the other sports on a big 3rd-and-goal, a 3-2 pitch with bases loaded, or even the final sequence in a one-possession basketball game. A soccer game plays out like some kind of amoebic stream of consciousness. My favorite part of being a sports fan is trying to manage or coach along with the game as I watch. American sports fans value the chess match of what play to call on 2nd-and-1 or 3rd-and-4, what pitch to throw in this 2-2 count, when to bunt or send a baserunner, etc. Soccer is too free-flowing to provide those fan-captivating moments of strategy.
Part II - The Fans
The out-of-the-woodwork soccer following that takes place in this country every four years for the World Cup is enough to put you off your food. Americans will get all juiced up for soccer for the next four weeks, packing the bars and pubs decked out in USA soccer gear like they a.) actually give a shit, or b.) can name 6 players on the team. You know what the fervor is really all about? It's about the drinking holiday. It's about having the popular excuse to go to a bar at 10am on a Saturday and howl away at odd chants and songs in an effort to pretend to be European. And when it's all over they'll go back to ignoring the sport for the next 47 months. So why not just be real about it? Are you really feeling that left out from the party if you don't buy into all the World Cup hype fed to you by ESPN? Kevin made an interesting point in his post (immediately below this one) that following soccer is not necessarily the cool thing to do in the country. But for at least these four weeks it is the cool thing to do, and the amount of people that are becoming temporary soccer fans in the US right now give me all the more reason to turn a deaf ear to the goings-on in South Africa. This would drive me up the wall if I were an actual legit soccer fan like Kevin is. The "four weeks out of every four years" soccer fan is akin to the "championship parade" fan who saw less than 50% of the games that year.
American soccer fans, even the reputable ones, are a unique bunch. Through my years I've never seen a group of people get so offended when you say you don't like their sport. Go and try it sometime. Tell an American soccer fan that you don't like soccer and he'll react like you just called his mother a slut. He'll undoubtedly launch into a sales pitch for the game and try to insult my sport-watching intelligence while doing so. "Oh, but you just don't get it, it's the most popular game in the world, you just can't appreciate it because Americans' attention spans are too short, blah blah blah...." Nobody else does this! Hockey fans don't do it. Auto racing fans don't do it. MMA fans don't do it. If someone tells any of those fans that they don't like their sport, the response is usually along the lines of "that's your business, not mine." What is it about being a soccer fan that makes you more defensive than the post-career Roger Clemens?
And by the way, can we put this "world's most popular" argument in mothballs please? We all know it's the most globally followed game. But does that mean it's a rule that I have to like it, just for that fact? You're in America. Soccer may be the most popular game in the world, but not in this corner of the world. Accept the fact that your beloved soccer is a second-tier sport in the country in which you reside. If you want to go somewhere where soccer really matters, then feel free to move across the pond. I'll even help you pack. If I happened to move to France or Spain, I'd have an easy time accepting the fact that baseball is irrelevant there. Sense of surroundings, people. Sense of surroundings.
Consider this: America is comprised largely of the descendants of European immigrants, yes? These immigrants came over several generations ago from countries where soccer was king. Over time, sports like baseball, football, and basketball came into the fold and took over in the still-young-and-forming-its-identity United States. Soccer fell by the wayside as alternatives were offered. America, thanks to its size and diversity, has had a greater sampling of more sports than most other countries, if not all. And America as a whole has chosen other options over soccer.
On a cultural note, (and thanks to our blog follower Tony for this one) earlier American generations embraced these new "American" sports in part as a way to carve an identity for themselves as US citizens and separate themselves a bit from the countries from which they emigrated. It seems more and more now that people in America try to embrace soccer as an effort to be anything but American. I'm not against being open to other cultures, but seeing people walking around in foreign soccer jerseys with those multicolored scarves that make you look like you belong on a coffee logo bothers me as much as seeing 4th- and 5th-generation Americans with tattoos and/or car adornments depicting their ancestors' home country. Pride for your heritage is fine, but going over the top to act like you're actually from that country when in truth your family has been over here for 120 years is not. You get that point because we've gone blue in the face illustrating it in the past, so no need to dive back in. But let it be known that soccer fandom in this country goes a long way in feeding the xenocentric beast.
In conclusion, I'm indifferent to soccer itself. I can't ever see myself spending time or money in an effort to follow the sport in any way, but I'm not exactly starting a picket line against its existence either. What I want is for it not to be in my face for maybe 4 months out of every 4 years in an attempt to make it relevant in my home country. Have all the fun you want with the World Cup, but do not call my sports aptitude into question for simply sticking to my ways and conscientiously objecting to the blitz of soccer hype. Please cool it with the crusade to try to instantly rearrange the pecking order of American sports. If soccer is ever going to be truly that big a deal in the United States, it is going to take a few generations, because the appeal of sports is very much a generation-to-generation handoff. And in the mean time, you're just going to have to live with the fact that "Dad, you wanna have a catch?" is much more American thing to say than "Dad, you wanna go out and take some penalty kicks?"