This may come as a surprise to some Americans but the most popular sport in the world is football, or as Americans call it soccer. Soccer comes in with an estimated total of 3.5 Billion fans while American Football and Basketball is estimated at only 800 million fans combined. The two don’t even add up to 30% of soccer’s popularity. In most world sports such as the Winter Olympics Games or the Summer Olympics Games the USA has long asserted its athletic dominance. However, when it comes to soccer the USA has been the laughing stock of the rest of the world.
Why? First of all, America has its own favorite sports. Americans would much rather watch the Super Bowl or the NBA Finals over the World Cup. Many Americans don't find the possibility of a 0-0 tie game to be entertaining to the least bit. A non-scoring game does in no way fill a sports bar with excitement, at least not in the US.
For reasons above, soccer has not been a widely played sport in neighborhoods and schools across America. Beside the typical middle class soccer mom's family, soccer is not a household sport. Soccer is only practiced and played by the vast minority of American citizens. America has never focused sufficient resources into the sport of soccer to establish a team that could challenge the best in the world because of its low participation rates. For the US to even qualify and compete exceptionally in recent World Cups has been a major accomplishment within itself with such miniscule participation.
Other than commonly stated arguments against soccer, what is soccer’s biggest failure in the US? Soccer's target demographic plays the biggest role in its lack of success. Soccer is often looked at as America's middle class sport. The parents of our soccer youth are often the middle class soccer moms or the middle class hard working fathers who want their kids to learn the values of hard work through sport. Often for these kids, playing soccer is not their own choice. Some of these children are forced to pick a sport by their parents at a young age. With the brutality of football as a deterrent and a plethora of highly skilled youth in the sport of basketball, it's no question why baseball and soccer are often the sport of choice for middle class youth. Nevertheless, there are also many kids that choose soccer for their love of the sport. Soccer is undoubtedly an enjoyable sport to play. Even so, it is not enough to simply be a sport that is fun to play. For the widespread success of any sport in a country there has to be more draw to the sport than being a fun game to play. This is where soccer fails to succeed in America and until soccer meets a few other criteria its potential will remain unrealized.
Many don't see the potential of USA Soccer as it comes off a bit blurry. Once the fog is cleared though the potential can be seen very clearly. Think about it... America arguably has the best athletes in all of the world. The only reason this is even arguable is for the reason that the US stinks so terribly in soccer which many consider to be the World's sport. In the World's sport, the US has always been a notch below mediocrity. This casts a great big shadow over the true athleticism of the USA. In most other sports it would be a sin to even question America's athletic dominance. With such athletic talent present, the potential of USA Soccer is very clear. America has the potential to be the most dominant soccer country in the world.
How does America go about realizing its potential? The answer is very complex but to sum it up into a short statement, USA soccer needs to target a different demographic. One can look at any sport in the world and it will be found that in every sport the best athletes of that sport are the athletes who needed that sport to survive. For example, most kids stricken by poverty in Latin American countries see soccer as their only way out of poverty. As opposed to a middle class child with little financial struggles, soccer is not just a fun game to play, it is the only way their families will eat. These young Latino boys will out-train, out-practice, out-sweat, out-bleed anyone else in the world to ensure that they take their families out of the ghettos in which they survived as a child. The same goes for popular American sports. These athletes have the hunger to make it before everyone else and that hunger drives them to be the best. In a capitalist society such as the USA that drive for gold becomes even greater. Sure you have your typical Stephen Curry's who grew up wealthy and simply had access to the best training possible but the dedication of Steph Curry to athletics is something that is very rare among the peers Steph grew up with. Regardless, most of America's great athletes come from a poverty stricken past. The same could be said about baseball. There is a new wave of baseball talent coming from the Dominican Republic and Cuba who see Major League Baseball as their only way out. No matter what sport or where you look in the world, the best athletes are the kids who grow up with nothing else to lose.
The establishment and growth of MLS has done much for tapping into the minds of our future athletes. Still, soccer is a long ways away from being a main sport played by poor kids from the ghetto. There is still only limited opportunity for fame, brandability, endorsement deals, shoe deals, high paying contracts, or becoming an American household name through soccer. Kids in America don't see the profitability in soccer and to be frank soccer's profitability in the US is higher than it's ever been but still very limited. There is no reason for a kid to want to make a few million dollars playing soccer when he can invest all of his time and practice and make hundreds of millions playing basketball. USA Soccer's potential athletes are on display right now in more profitable sports. Imagine an athlete with the capabilities of Kyrie Irving instead of wanting to learn how to dribble a basketball as a kid wanting to learn how to dribble a soccer ball. Imagine an athlete like Odell Beckham Jr using his amazing ability to catch as a goalie instead of as a wide receiver. For other countries to even try and compete against the US wouldn't be fair. USA would be a lock to win the World Cup every four years.
It’s amazing to imagine but right now it is only just a dream. Until soccer is seen as viable means for these little poor boys and girls to move their families out of the ghetto, until then America will never reach its soccer potential.
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