Monday, June 28, 2010
U.S. soccer may take home public, despite Cup loss
From the Evansville Courier Press, June 27, 2010
I sat in a restaurant packed with people watching and cheering for the USA soccer team, and as the final seconds ticked away in the 2-1 loss to Ghana my first thought was "Where do we go from here?"
Reflecting back on the World Cup for the U.S. national team, I think I will look back on this event as the year the casual sports fan became interested in soccer.
There are some genuine factors from the World Cup that will be hard to replicate — the idea of watching our country compete against the world's best gives fans a sense of patriotism that is difficult to manufacture through Major League Soccer.
We also saw last summer during the exhibitions of world club powers like Chelsea, Inter Milan, Barcelona and Real Madrid that fans will come out in droves to see the best players and teams in the world. TV ratings have reflected that during the World Cup as well. Just like we have with football and basketball, fans will come out or tune in to watch the very best.
We have proven as a nation that we can compete with the best soccer nations in the world. Our next challenge is to be able to replicate that at the domestic level.
I am a big fan of Major League Soccer, and while I understand that the standard falls below what fans see when watching the English Premier League on ESPN or Fox Soccer Channel, we as a nation need to support MLS more. We also need to accept that this is our league, and that complaining about what's wrong with it won't make it better.
Everyone is welcome to their own opinion, but I am amazed at how many armchair quarterbacks there are watching youth, high school, college and professional soccer in our country. If you are a fan, you should appreciate the game for what it is and for the level it is being played at. I can tell you that I don't go to youth or high school games to critique players and coaches. I am out there because I genuinely enjoy watching the game of soccer, and take the level that I am watching for what it is. We have a lot of new soccer fans who will hopefully continue to watch the game at the local, regional, national and international levels and appreciate the games for what they offer.
As for MLS, the next challenge is two-fold and dependent on money: MLS needs to be able to bring in more of the top players from around the world, and it needs to find a way to pay our top American players to stay here. Our professional league right now is much the same as basketball in other countries. Most young European or South American basketball players dream of coming to the NBA. We need to keep our top young players in the MLS while providing them top competition. That also would go a long way toward increasing attendance and TV ratings in the MLS.
As for our national team, it seems like only yesterday that we were playing in the 1990 World Cup with a team made up of college All-Americans. Twenty years later, we have a team comprised of professional players who compete in the top leagues in the world.
As for youth soccer, we need to continue to raise the standards of our top young players. U.S. Soccer has developed the U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy, which is a "Champions League" for the top youth clubs around the country. The state of Indiana only has one team — Indiana United in Indianapolis — and we need to find a way to offer that same opportunity to more players and teams.
As for college soccer, the season needs to be longer to allow our top amateur players to play more competitive matches. College soccer develops more professional and national team players than any other setting.
We have made great strides as a soccer nation during this World Cup, and if we can continue to buy into soccer as a major sports entity, we will continue to see soccer grow and thrive in our country.
Ever since the days of the North American Soccer League — with Pele playing for the New York Cosmos — soccer fans have talked about 'the soccer boom' in our country. Casual sports fans, whether you like it or not, soccer is here to stay.
n Mike Jacobs is the men's soccer coach at the University of Evansville.
Posted by Mike Jacobs at 1:40 PM