The Champion’s League football championship between Barcelona, Spain and Manchester United will be watched by millions across the world. That is millions outside of the United States of America. Actually millions of Americans will watch to, but not nearly as many who watch pro football’s Super Bowl, pro basketball’s finals or major league baseball’s World Series. Only die hard football (or soccer as we call it) fans will watch.
For years we have been told that soccer is the up and coming sport in America. When I was growing up in the 1970’s it was said that by the time I became an adult soccer would have surpassed baseball, football, basketball and hockey as the most popular sport to play and watch in America. It was the soccer revolution with youth leagues being formed and the North American Soccer League going strong.
Well it is 2011 and that revolution, though somewhat succesful, has not quite accomplished what many said it would. Soccer is much more popular in America as adults who played the game as children follow it professionally and internationally now. They and other parents have steered their children to playing the sport. There are soccer complexes all over the country as boys and girls of all ages are participating. And there are many adult leagues as well.
Soccer is very popular at the youth level with children and adults, because it is the politically correct sport. Unlike football, basketball, baseball and hockey where one or two players can dominate the ball or puck while the other kids stand around everyone gets to touch it in soccer. Soccer is also a good way to let kids run up and down the field and get good exercise. Because it is a non contact sport and there is no puck or ball coming at a players head it’s safer than most sports as well. And both boys and girls can play it.
However; the playing of soccer has not carried over to the watching of it in America. Soccer still lags behind the big four sports of baseball, basketball, football and hockey in popularity. It lags behind basketball and football at the pro and college levels. In some states it lags behind basketball and football at the high school levels. Soccer is a great game to play and watch. But there is one thing missing from it that every popular American sport has.
The element of power.
There is nothing physically powerful about soccer. And in America we like sports with an element of power. It is our nature as a country. Power in sports inspires us. And all of the sports that we like has an element of power in some form.
Football of course has the hitting. Whether it be blocking or tackling American football is popular, because of its violent nature. Sure we love the long pass and the great catch. But we love to see the quarterback get nailed for a sack or the receiver get hit hard while trying to make the catch. We love the long run. But we also love seeing the ballcarrier get crushed by a 260 pound linebacker. Without the hitting, football is not football.
Baseball gives us another form of power. The power of pitching and hitting. There is nothing like seeing a pitcher take the mound and just blow away a hitter with a 95 to 100 mile per hour fastball. And there is nothing like seeing a hitter hit a ball so far that it looks like an aspirin tablet when it goes over the fence. When you get a pitcher who can really bring it and a hitter who can really crush the ball it makes for a great matchup.
Baseball also has two other things. The danger of the hitter being hit by a pitch. And the play at the plate where the catcher tries to prevent the runner from scoring by blocking home and the runner tries to dislodge the ball by running over him like a football player.
Basketball has the slam dunk. There is nothing more electrifying in basketball than the sight of a player slamming the ball into the hoop. Especially when he slams it on someone trying to block it. It excites the crowd when the home team does it and takes the energy out of them when it’s the visitors.
Basketball also has the blocked shot. The defensive equivalent to the slam dunk. When a player swats a shot into the third row it is one of the ultimate denials in all of sport.
Hockey has the slapshot, checking and, of course, fighting. The slapshot is when a player rears back and just hits the puck as hard as he can toward the net in an effort to score. How goalies even see it no one knows. Especially since the puck travels at speeds around 90 miles per hour and above. It is the signature power move in hockey.
Then there is the checking. Seeing a player get checked into the boards, especially when at the event, is just as exciting to fans as watching someone get hit in football. Especially when they are pinned against the protective glass and you can see their face get flattened.
And there is the fighting. The NHL could do without it, but it is allowed and the fans love it. There is no need to explain the power element in this.
The big four sports are not the only ones with an element of power. Tennis has the serve which when hit just right can clock above 90 miles per hour leaving the opponent helpless. Of course boxing is all aobut power as one man tries to knock another out. Then there is ultimate fighting which has become on a par with boxing in popularity. Horse racing has the element of horsepower. Auto racing the element of speed which is powerful in it’s own right. The same with the sprint races in track and field.
Soccer has none of this. Maybe that’s why we don’t understand it as those who love the game tell us all of the time.
No, we understand it. We know exactly what soccer is about. But we know what we like. We like power and speed.
And until that changes, soccer will never be our cup of tea.