In a couple of hours I’m going to throw on my DC United jersey and scarf and head to a bar, making sure to get there extra early to watch the insipid pre-game show (without sound) and let pessimistic thoughts bubble over a Smithwick’s. On Sunday, when the US plays Mexico for our regional championship, I’ll probably be sleeping.
The reasoning for a tiny group of US fans isolated in a cavernous stadium is pretty obvious: soccer, for all our efforts, is still unpopular. But that some group is also a surprising minority in the world of American soccer fands in general. In a stadium of American soccer supporters dressed in their team colors, a Argentinian group would probably outnumber Sam’s Army by good margin.
An antipatriotic sport ?
The face of our diverse culture of support is usually the Latino immigrant, probably first or second generation, clutching a Mexican or Honduran flag and ignoring his adopted country’s team for pretty obvious reasons. And of course, this face is accurate but highly misleading. Being a newcomer in the arena of serious sports in America, soccer has multiple points of entry in a way that football or baseball doesn’t. Teams aren’t passed down through generations or supported from birth. The quintessential opener to a life of rooting for soccer in the US? “Help me pick a team.” No tribalism here, no fathers and sons bleeding for the shirt, at least not yet. And so in the aforementioned stadium of American soccer fans, the Argentinian group is pretty likely to be made up white suburbanites named Jim and Dave.
How to become a soccer fan
The irony of the Great American Soccer Boom is that it’s fueled by media: the World Cup on ESPN, English sports pages on the Internet, a Vegas buffet of club games on Fox Soccer, Setanta, and GolTV. Had the boom somehow happened in the late 80s, before satellite TV and The Guardian Online, fueled by a long-awaited grassroots explosion of impatient high school soccer players, things might have been different. But the truth is that today’s traitorous American soccer fan is the white guy with AYSO kids and disposable income. At some point (like me) he got intrigued by this sport in the constant periphery of his life, fell in love with some game or team or player, and (unlike me) had the cash to shell out for the dish and the broadband that allowed him to stay connected. If that moment was seeing Thierry Henry or watching Brazil demolish someone, why break allegiance with the things that brought you to soccer? And why settle for Landon Donovan when you’ve got Germany-Italy on the DVR?
Still a lesser option
So as well-off America discovers that soccer is good for more than a kid’s distractions, American soccer is merely a lesser option in a readily accessible sea of greatness. It neither dominates the market nor provides an attractive enough alternative for free-agent fans (this is certaintly not helped by the fact that most good soccer media in the country is foreign, and acts that way). And this hits the national program in ways that it doesn’t hit MLS: where national games are sporadic and get little coverage, at least an MLS team has a schedule and a beat writer in the local paper.