Part five in a series.
As Americans continue to succeed in the global game, expect fans to jump on the bandwagon.
Back to my original thesis, noted in part one: Americans love a winner, and the more success we achieve on the global stage, the more fans here are going to latch on.
…soccer might well have a bright future as a spectator sport in the US if we become an international power. That’s right. If our national team were one of the world’s top five sides, I assure you – I guarantee you – American consumers would fight for a front-row seat on the bandwagon. We’ve been told we ought to like soccer because everybody else does for all these years (and what do we hate worse than being told what we ought to do?), and meanwhile we’ve struggled to even qualify for the World Cup. We’ve gotten our knickers dusted on a regular basis by third-rate countries like freakin’ Brazil. And you want to tell me that if all of a sudden we were dominating the sport the way we dominate basketball that people wouldn’t be lining up for tickets and merchandise?
We’re already seeing more and more American players succeeding internationally (and not just goalies, either), with several Yanks playing key roles in England (Eric Lichaj, Geoff Cameron, Tim Howard, Maurice Edu), Germany (Tim Chandler, Fabien Johnson, Steve Cherundolo, Danny Williams, Jermaine Jones), Spain (Oguchi Onyewu), Italy (Michael Bradley) and Holland, where Jozy Altidore was leading the league in scoring up until recently.
Meanwhile, the most accomplished field player the nation has ever produced, Clint Dempsey, is starting for Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premiership (which is currently engaged in Europa League competition).
Dempsey finished fourth on the FWA Footballer of the Year list behind winner Robin van Persie and Manchester United pair Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes, who came in second and third, respectively. Dempsey became the first American to reach the milestone of fifty goals in the Premier League, with a free-kick against Sunderland in the last home game of the season.
On 7 June 2012, Dempsey was voted the Fulham ‘Player of the Season’ by fans for the second straight season.
The national team has endured some growing pains since the arrival of new coach Jurgen Klinsmann, but they have talent and he has a proven knack for getting the most of the players at his disposal. Nothing is guaranteed, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see the US advance past the round of 16 in the next World Cup, and winning an elimination match would be a massive tipping point moment for American soccer.
In sum, then, soccer is posed for massive, sustained growth in the US at the same time our current alpha spectator sport is being eroded from the ground up by incredibly complex problems that suggest no obvious solutions. No one is predicting that football is going to go away for good, but it’s hard to see how it can maintain its status in the face of the dynamics described in the first two installments of this series.
While I love football (despite not being very good at it when I played as a youth), I’ve also come to understand the passion attending world football culture. Last year’s Champions League run by Chelsea FC was one of the most blindingly exciting things I have ever experienced in all my years of sports, and all those young people investing themselves in the supporters clubs are onto something. It’s more than a group of folks in matching shirts getting together to watch games, it’s genuine community.
I look forward to the coming years and the growth of “proper football” in the United States. And I hope that dedicated fans of American football will understand that this isn’t an either/or proposition: it’s okay to love them both.