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Steinberg Says: Soccer support still small

July 09, 2011|By Leigh Steinberg

Soccer is the world's passion.

Young Europeans grow up with dreams of starring in World Cups in their heads, as do their counterparts in Africa, Asia and South America. Sell-out crowds, massive television coverage of games and media devoted to players and teams dominate the international sports scene.

When the U.S. team played Mexico in the Rose Bowl last month, the rabidly rooting fans of Mexico outnumbered U.S. fans by 4-1, they chanted, blew horns, and booed the U.S. team non-stop. Yet professional soccer has been an underwhelming topic of focus with American sports fans. Why this disparity?

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The lack of professional soccer enthusiasm is even more bewildering, considering the wide spectrum of AYSO and youth soccer. The first organized team sport that virtually every young child plays in this country is soccer. Anyone driving across the United States on a Saturday morning would experience field after field filled with young soccer players.

A significant part of the social and community life for families with young children revolves around the weekly practices and games. Our three children – Jon, Matt and Katie – played 22 years of soccer between them. They grow up with soccer balls, shin guards, soccer shoes and uniforms as central parts of their lives.

It seems at some point, after youth soccer and prior to high school, enthusiasm wanes and most kids mature in a nation where football, baseball, basketball, action sports, golf and tennis prevail.

Pro soccer does not tend to marry well with the tastes of most adults in this country. We like sports that have a finite chance of success or failure on each play. The batter is out or safe, the free-throw shooter makes or misses the shot, the pass is completed or not. In sports that don't have this element, we like to see lots of scoring.

Our popular consciousness likes action and resolution and we like it in compact units. Baseball has suffered with the short attention spam of the public, but at least it has innings divided into quantifiable parts. We like to see our sports with these short periods of activity followed by commercials and bathroom breaks. We are not used to seeing an hour and a half of continuous play.

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