Monday, July 25, 2011

American Media Coverage of Soccer Needs to Grow

Mike Cardillo of the Stamford Advocate has seen soccer grow significantly in our country. Now, he wants to see the media's coverage of the game grow, too.

Sunday evening, waiting to take the field before a rec softball game, all the chatter among my teammates was about the Women's World Cup final between the United States and Japan, which was in the second period of extra time. Yes, you read that correctly. One of my teammates was almost late for the first pitch, only leaving his house after the 90 minutes of regulation were complete.

It was pretty clear: For whatever reason, the 2011 Women's World Cup seemed to strike a nerve with sports fans. Instead of being (at best) ignored or (at worst) mocked, the final match was being talked about by my teammates the way we generally jib-jab back and forth about all other sports.

Credit the smooth ESPN production from Germany.

Tip your cap to a likeable, outgoing group of American players displaying a never-say-die attitude, which produced some thrilling soccer games.

Call it good timing, since aside from baseball, there's not a whole lot of interesting stuff going on in the world of sports in mid-July.

Regardless, for a week at least, people took notice.

Will the success of the 2011 Women's World Cup usher in a new groundswell of interest in women's soccer, specifically the fledging WPS league, which has struggled financially since its inception in 2007? Realistically? Probably not.

Better yet, let's ask a more probing question: Whenever a World Cup rolls around -- be it men's or women's -- why does the American media begin to rattle off the same, old cliched stories about whether the sport will take off in the United States as it has around the rest of the globe?

For folks 40 and under, it probably already has done that.

Granted, this isn't exactly empirical research, but Wednesday night, there were no fewer than five soccer games from across the globe on American television, all overlapping. On Univision, it was the Copa America semifinal of Paraguay vs. Venezuela; on Fox Soccer, it was a WPS match, followed by the Seattle Sounders taking on world power Manchester United in a summer exhibition game. Later on MSG was a regular MLS match with the Red Bulls playing at Colorado, and finally on ESPN2, Spanish giant Real Madrid taking on Mexico's Guadalajara.

Twenty years ago, playing youth soccer in Fairfield, about the only exposure to professional soccer my team had was access to a grainy VHS tape my father made from the 1990 World Cup. Nowadays, kids have no shortage of international and domestic stars to aspire to follow.

Again, a random example, but helping my parents move, a couple of kids were playing next door. One was wearing a Carlos Puyol Barcelona shirt.

There's clearly more than a passing curiosity for the sport every four years.

Is soccer ever going to displace the NFL or baseball or college football as the dominant sport in the land? Of course not. Better yet, why should this be a concern or worry?

If anything, Americans embrace all sports; well, maybe not cricket.

Part of me, as a media member myself, wonders if soccer takes too many of my ink-stained brethren out of their comfort zone. Since they didn't grow up with the sport and don't know much about its strategy or inner workings, they tend to write in broad strokes, as they did in the wake of the U.S.'s eventual loss to Japan -- did the Americans choke? Or the media celebrated the heart displayed by the team in defeat. At worst was the "Around the Horn"-type blabbering heads who focused on the inane, such as why penalty kicks are the wrong way to decide a champion, instead of talking about -- you know -- the game itself.

There's a generation of soccer fans in America, the fans who flock to games in cities like Portland or Seattle or even nearby Harrison, N.J., who crave more than these cursory, straw man-type arguments the mainstream media likes to serve up. As a person who's followed the game for the past two decades, we're almost beyond that threshold.

On the plus side, at the bare minimum with soccer, you'll never have to read about the words "lockout" or "collective bargaining agreement."

In the year 2011, there's seemingly always a game on television ... somewhere.

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