Mark Bacon—Main Event Sports DC
The World Cup is underway in Russia. But while billions of soccer-crazed fans around the world will be tuned in, here in the United States, support for what is known as the world’s most popular sport has long been muted.
Most Americans don’t give a good hot damn about nobody’s “Soccer.” And since I know it and you know it, what’s the point of stating the obvious, right? Even the most die-hard soccer fans watching games at a nearby pub this week say the sport may never be widely embraced in the U.S. Americans don’t have the patience for it. People are never gonna care about it the way they do in other countries.
American soccer is a story of the haves and the have-nots. The Sports Fitness Industry Association reports participation in basketball is higher than in baseball, football and soccer, regardless of race or income. But when it comes to soccer in America, if you’re black or poor, you’re far less likely to play than if you’re white or wealthy.
Some soccer fans I spoke with say that needs to change in order for the sport to become more accessible in the U.S.
“If you’re gonna develop as a soccer player, that is a pretty big financial burden on parents,” one fan I spoke to said. “So would-be athletes might not have the opportunity to get into that sport. So it’s gonna take a culture shift to improve youth development across America.”
Despite those issues, the game is growing in the states. Major League Soccer has more than double the number of teams now than when it started 22 years ago. According to Reuters, there were 1.6 million U.S. kids who played soccer in 1990. Today that number is about 4 million.
While certainly not as popular as American Football or Basketball, Soccer has gained significant popularity in the US as of late. I believe this is primarily due to two factors, US national team world cup success (both men’s and women’s) and surging popularity of the FIFA video games. However, due to the high scoring and fast paced nature of American sports, I really can’t see it ever becoming as popular as Football or Basketball.
Somewhat changing the topic, I do wonder if the game could be “tweaked” to appeal more to US audiences. While I doubt any of this would every happen, it is curious of what the perception of the game would be with these rule changes:
- Reduce the field length about 33% (maintain width)
- Reduce the number of players on each team to 9
- Increase the size of the goal about 10%
- Remove penalty shootouts (many Americans hate this rule) with golden goal or some other definitive OT
- Do not allow defenders to grab ball handler’s shoulders
- Allow unlimited (or significantly more) substitutions
- Optimize ball size and weight to make for better ball control and shot control
These rules would possibly increase the pace of the game, as well as make for more scoring. You would probably see many more 3-4 games and far fewer 0-0 games, as well as significantly more highlights (long shots, skill moves, impressive goals, etc). I am curious of basketball and football fan’s thoughts about these rules (probably strong distaste), so please let me know in the comments how the rules would be good or bad.