We constantly hear from many people on the outside that the US is not a “footballing nation”. Ok, I can give many that. Yet if there is one thing that we cannot deny is that the sport has really been able to gather steam in the past decade.
If there was ever one instance that is etched in my memory was the time I looked to write about the US-Argentina match in East Rutherford, New Jersey for The Hartford Courant. This paper is known to be the oldest paper in the United States and is the source of information for many soccer fans in and around the state capital.
“We don’t cover that stuff. People don’t go to that,” said the editor at that time. I was fuming mad, but there was little I could do. I would let the results speak for themselves. Well over 88,000 people went to see that match and when I threw that stat at the editor a few days after the match and his answer was, “Well, many of those people weren’t going to read us anyway.”
Sometimes letting things run their course is the greatest revenge. There were moments when I remembered when the mainstream mocked some individuals for stating the fact that soccer would be big in 20 years time. Wonder where they are at this point?
Maybe they at one point did have some traction at that stage when there was no professional league, very few US-born players abroad, the national team wasn’t as competitive and networks weren’t tripping over themselves to obtain the rights to several of the biggest leagues in the world. I can give them that; but times have changed.
Many of the writers, pundits, skeptics, journalists, sensationalists and just outright vitriolic opposition of the game take shots while questioning when soccer is going to “arrive” in this country. Their anxious and so desired wait for the non-arrival of the game on their hallowed “American soil” is like waiting for a transcontinental flight to arrive at a train station.
As a matter of fact, the flight left, the parade is over and the ticker tape has been picked up and they are still waiting at the train station.
Some of the shots taken at soccer are like “yo momma” jokes at this point. From a league standpoint, MLS is fighting for number three in the US sports landscape. Leaguewide stadiums have packed houses on various occasions save for the New England Revolution. So anything thrown out there is just a flailing effort in a hopeless cause.
US Soccer fans have also evolved immensely. No longer are they satisfied with just “being there” or just having the game against the best competition available. Fans are now looking to win those contests. S Fans are now asking for the best players to represent them at the national team level.
More importantly they are clamoring for an identity. As fans, the followers of MLS and of the national team are now just as passionate as many other teams out there.
I have had the distinct pleasure of hearing from fans that became fans just a few short years ago. Their conversion is a testament to the power that the game has. It is also a testament to the power that mediums such as Twitter, Facebook and even YouTube have had since their advent a few years ago.
That example is just one of many that no longer have a great deal of footing when it comes to denying the growth of the sport in this country. Instead, they have to go out and attack the sport using lame stereotypes and exposing complete ignorance for the game.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that the US is the country where you get football ala carte on television either. There is just no country in the world right now that offers you the quantity and quality of football that you can see on television here in the US.
A few years ago while I still lived up in Connecticut I was always looking for freelance gigs. I covered the Connecticut Reds, the Boston Breakers affiliate at the time. That team was stocked with talent.
It was a beautiful time for me as I got to see football at a very pure level. I got the pleasure to players like Maggie Tomecka, Tiffany Weimer, Katie Schoepfer and Brett Maron among many others that have really made an impact in the game both at club level and even at the international level to an extent. But soccer? Over high school baseball or even a local team?
My biggest sin was to be a small-paper reporter looking to cover the international and broader aspect of sport. People were dumbfounded when I chose to interview former All Black legend Doug Howlett or a famous soccer player over a kid that just threw a no-hitter in American Legion. I was fortunate to have an editor that gave me the freedom to cover what I wanted to and it was a very favorable situation for me at the time.
It was my haven where I was looked at as a person that wanted to see the game grow more than a journalist covering an event. I might have helped with my grain of salt, but there were very few that saw it that way. To be honest, it was rewarding.
I was known as the guy that liked to cover “his people” because I covered soccer first and foremost. In reality, I was just covering a different pulse of the community that was tapped into whenever the two local high schools faced off at a field that was famous for seeing then-Boston Red Sox star Babe Ruth hit the first-ever home run at that field.
Seeing those matches showed that there was a different pulse of a town filled with families that were either immigrants or sons of immigrants play on that pitch. Yes, baseball was God there. Football was second and soccer was not far off the pace despite being completely ignored by the local papers.
Now with the Women’s World Cup and even the final of the Women’s Champions League being shown on television and seeing many US-born players start to emerge on the international scene as well as the national team getting some recognition, now they are beginning to begrudgingly understand why I covered sports the way I did.
Seeing Fox put the Champions League final was something that would have been considered asinine just seven years ago. Euro2004 was strictly on pay-per-view. I think you’re getting the picture at this point.
Revenge? Nah. It’s just years of hard work for many that laid the groundwork for future generations to make it grow. Now we are seeing people take it to the next level.
One of those moments, definitely seeing Portland Timbers fans sing the national anthem.
Of course there have been many fan bases as well that have left people in the mainstream media flabbergasted somewhere in a very dark room. They can all stake a claim to their own piece of the pie. They all earn some credit in people saying that soccer is here and it ain’t going nowhere.
But they are the least of anyone’s cares at this stage. Why? Because there have been moments where the fans have left the rest of the world in awe. That… says a lot.
My dad was surely wise when it came to giving me advice. He told me that fighting stubborn ignorance with logic is futile. Is there a ways to go for US Soccer fans? Of course there is; but the nice thing is to be able to stop for a second, look back, see how far the game has progressed and be impressed. Today happened to be one of those moments. For that, you (the fan) must be commended- highly.