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Avid Khorramian

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America's Lackluster Relationship with the "World's Most Popular Sport"

Posted: 07/20/2012 8:37 am

Millions around the world sit on the edge of their couches, watching the 2012 Copa del Rey final unfold. As the ball curls into the net, and Pedro Rodriguez gives FC Barcelona the winning third goal to Athletic Bilbao's zero, the entire world reacts. Athletic fans let out defeated sighs while I, along with all other FC Barcelona fans around the world, beam a smile and get ready to celebrate the nearly inevitable victory of my favorite club. Fans sit and watch the game until the ref blows the final whistle, admiring each pass and clever dribble displayed on the screen; however, the vast majority of Americans continue their lives with little to no knowledge of the final game that so many around the world are enthralled in.

In America, particularly in Los Angeles, the city that I call my home, sport and competition reign supreme. American sports fans thrive off of each victory their home team achieves, rallying behind the players and franchise. Such culture was evident this past year as the LA Kings captured the hearts of Los Angeles sports fans, orchestrating a near improbable NHL playoff run. After the team's cup-clinching victor, a 4-1 home win over the Devils, thousands poured onto the streets of downtown Los Angeles, celebrating the team's first-ever Cup victory. Such ecstatic celebrations throughout the city can be compared to those following each NBA championship attained by the Lakers. But where were those fans during the LA Galaxy's hard-fought MLS Cup victory on the shoulders of two of the game's most recognizable players, Landon Donovan and international icon David Beckham? Unlike the other victories, this one was understated, failing to earn flipped cars, chaos and mobs of fans celebrating in the streets. The fact is, soccer never caught on in the United States -- it failed to capture the hearts of Americans like it captured the hearts of the majority of people throughout the rest of the world. Such a lack of interest can be traced back to several different aspects within the American culture.

First, in Europe, South America and several countries in both Asia and the Middle East, people are born and embedded into a culture that emphasizes soccer. Children are raised and surrounded by others that love, play and watch the sport, allowing soccer to serve as almost a way of life. For example, a group of young boys in a small Brazilian village could be passing around a ball in hopes of growing up to be the next Ronaldinho or Pele. Meanwhile, a group of boys around the same age in the United States would more likely be found shooting around a basketball, aspiring to someday be as talented as Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant.

In addition, soccer has been a popular sport in some countries for many years. Some clubs in England, for example, have been around for over a hundred years, allowing numerous years to build a passionate fan base. The collective league for English clubs, now recognized as the English Premier League, was founded in 1888. In contrast, America's soccer league, Major League Soccer (MLS), was founded in 1993. MLS has had a far smaller period of time to burgeon and develop in comparison to some of the other leagues around the world. Three of the most popular leagues in America -- MLB, the NFL and the NBA -- were founded in 1875, 1920, and 1946, respectively, allowing each ample time to acquire a dedicated fan base far before the creation of the MLS. In addition, all three leagues feature a sport that originated in the USA, leading many to develop a sense of patriotism for their homegrown sports.

Finally, the common American generally craves high-scoring games with a defined winner every time. Like I said, baseball, basketball and football are three of the most popular sports in the United States. Why, you ask? Because the constant scoring gives fans something to cheer about consistently throughout the game. Soccer, on the other hand, can end in a 0-0 draw, leaving fans with no clear winner and not one goal scored in the 90-plus minutes of the game's duration. Unless the teams are competing in a direct elimination stage of a tournament, ties are acceptable in soccer. Such is not the case in the most popular American sports. Soccer remains a far more technical sport, leaving many fans that are trying to get into it impatient and lulled to boredom by the seemingly monotonous 0-0 score line.

What remains is the need for a solution, something that will spark the interest of a nation in regard to soccer. The only way for soccer to ever grow in America is through inspirational moments. The mere entrance of international soccer stars into the MLS, such as David Beckham and Thierry Henry, can only do so much for the game in this country. Americans must experience moments like Landon Donovan's last-minute screamer during stoppage against Algeria that allowed the U.S. Men's National Team to finish at the top of their group at the 2010 World Cup, or their triumphant victory over the Spanish national team during the Confederations Cup in 2009. Moments like those, in addition to widely watched global success, are the only ways to spread the sport that is so loved around the world throughout the United States.

Following professional soccer throughout the years, I've gone through the highs and lows with my favorite team. I've shrieked in disappointment after tough losses, ran laps around my TV room yelling after game-winning goals, and sat with my jaw clenched, heart beating at a skittish pace, during the final minutes of a close game. Overall, soccer provides its viewers with more than athletics by introducing him or her to a global community. The sport allows the viewer to be fully immersed into the culture surrounding it, effectively proving why it is the world's favorite game.

 
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