Like the majority of die-hard American sports fans, soccer was never part of my upbringing.
My parents were football fans, and thus when the umbilical cord was cut on the day of my birth, I was immediately handed a Dallas Cowboys pennant. My favorite toys as a toddler were chess men, which I used as both chew toys and football players, according to legend.
My first sport? Little league baseball. My second sport? American football … pads, helmets and all.
This continued through high school, where my only other sport was track … but coach only said track was a good idea because it was training for the following football season. Because of this, I ran the two-miler.
I hated the two-miler.
I was always too short and uncoordinated for basketball, but when my friends and I needed to kill time in the driveway during our youth, we played hoops.
Nowhere on my sports map did soccer ever come into play. I didn’t have the stereotypical soccer parents we’ve come to know and love today. And never once did I wish differently.
Soccer, to me, was for rich kids. At least that’s the way it turned out in Northeast Texas. Parents with money got their kids on travelling teams — I had a cousin on some of these teams — and we made fun of them for playing the “sissy” sport. In Texas, where football is king, this is completely accepted.
It was until college where I got my first taste of soccer. I was asked to join an intramural team — despite my ignorance of the sport — because I could run and could run for vast amounts of time (thanks to the two-miler).
So I played. And I stunk.
And I learned something for my two-game intramural soccer career.
It’s not a sissy sport, and I wasn’t even close to being in shape for it.
I write this as the entire world — me included — is glued to their television sets to watch the World Cup. Despite a few low-scoring ties, the first few days of games have been exciting, and I watched from start to finish the U.S.-England tilt Saturday, pumping my fist at the Americans’ unlikely goal and chanting “U.S.A! U.S.A.!” at the unlikely tie.
Sure, I’m riding the bandwagon. I will resume not caring about the sport in a few weeks, and all will be well. I’m sure the sport won’t miss me.
And I’m sure millions of other bandwagoners will join me. To us, the World Cup — like the Winter Olympics — is a good filler between football seasons. I have friends who are soccer fanatics, and a few of them have tried to convince me that if I really paid attention to the “world’s sport,” I, too, would be hooked.
I doubt it, and I doubt soccer will ever become the bread-and-butter sport (or even in the Top 3) in the United States, even if the Stars and Stripes win it all (speaking of “unlikely”).
And there are plenty of reasons for this — reasons even the biggest soccer apologist can’t deny or overcome. Here are but a few:
Soccer is too attention-demanding
What do professional football, baseball, basketball and hockey all have in common?
In fact, of the 60 minutes played in your typical NFL game, only about 15 seconds is actual football. The rest is huddles, shots of the coach yelling on the sideline, the National Anthem, halftime shows, instant replay and end zone celebrations.
Baseball has enough time for a full commercial between every pitch.
And have you noticed that the last two minutes of a basketball game can last 30 minutes in real time?
But soccer? No breaks at all. In fact, the clock never stops. Time is ADDED to the game if for whatever reason play stops. So the soccer fan must always be on their toes.
No pee breaks. No beer commercials. No nothing.
Americans don’t have that kind of attention span, and for this reason alone, soccer will never be a ratings-getter in the U.S.
I know in England, soccer is full of off-the-field drama, but here, we barely know our guys’ names.
That’s because there’s no baseball-style steroid usage in soccer, no football-style crime sprees in soccer, no basketball-style infifelity in soccer and no hockey-style brawls in soccer.
Americans like soap operas with their sports. Soccer is too much like public service television for our tastes.
All this said, I completely understand the passion in soccer, and I’m jealous of it, in fact. American sports fans like to think they live and die with their teams, but even the most die-hard Tar Heel basketball fan has nothing on an Irish soccer hooligan or South African soccer loyalist.
I’ll do my best to follow the World Cup to the end (or at least until the Americans are dropped). Just don’t expect me to go visiting the local “pitch” when it’s over.