Observations from a soccer enthusiast

June 16th, 2014
By

Dave,

I appreciate that you wrote a column on U.S. soccer today.  I’ve played all my life, and at 56 I’m still playing.  I’ve followed the U.S. national team closely since the World Cup in 1994 (that was the year of the baseball strike.  And sports channels across the nation gave a few minutes of air time for the World Cup, but much more for the nail biting developments of the baseball strike….).

I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I’ve noticed that local sports columnists across the U.S. somehow feel compelled to write a token column during every World Cup while ignoring the sport almost entirely during the four year periods between the event.  So I don’t pay much attention to them (like the World Cup A-Z ditty that your colleague wrote the other day).   But since your column focused on a long-lived story, I thought I’d add some observations that you might find worthwhile.  (But no offense if you don’t, or if you’re not interested.  I have no pretenses that everyone should be interested in soccer just because I am).
First, the U.S. has qualified for the World Cup every time since 1990 — and that is not easy.  Yes, we don’t play in Europe or South America where the national competition is harder, but qualifying for the World Cup in North America is no picnic.  We have to compete against the likes of Costa Rica (just knocked off perennial powerhouse Uruguay 3-1), and Mexico (just beat Cameroon — a historically great team).
Second, like most teams that get the World Cup a lot, the U.S. has had some good years, some mediocre ones, and some flameouts.  We made it to the Quarterfinals in 2002 after beating Portugal in group play (no one expected that), and thoroughly dominating Mexico in the first knockout game.  We lost to Germany 1 - 0 in the next round, after hitting the post twice and outplaying them.  The U.S. played respectably in the 2010 Cup, even though Ghana beat us in the first knockout game.  But Ghana is a very, very good team.  No one in the world of soccer doubts their ability.  And the year before that, the U.S. reached the final of the Confederations Cup after beating Spain 2 - 0, and losing to the Champion Brazil 3-2.  Not too shabby.
Even historically great soccer nations have terrible tournaments, like Spain losing 5-1 the other day, France and Italy bombing out in the first round in 2010, and England seemingly never failing to underperform.   But that’s international soccer.
If you want to read a good book about what makes some countries successful vs. unsuccessful, and which countries will probably emerge as global powerhouses, you should read Soccernomics (written by two economists who crunched a lot of data).  It explains a lot.
Your column focused on Kyle Rote, a guy I remember.  But Kyle, as dedicated and talented as he was, could’t hold a candle to modern U.S. players like Dempsey, Bradley, Howard, and others.  These guys have proven themselves in the top professional leagues of the world.  And others are following in their footsteps.  Meanwhile,  the MLS is pulling off a quiet miracle by not just surviving 20 years, but coming out with a great product and dedicated fan base with a stable business model.  If you attended a game in Portland or Seattle, you wouldn’t believe you’re in the U.S.  The fans are over the top in their enthusiasm.  Obviously, soccer is not for everyone, and I can appreciate that.  Neither can anyone convince me that a sport like golf is an interesting game to watch.  It’s all personal.
Final thoughts — while the U.S. is in the famous ‘Group of Death’ this cup, the only reason any group gets that name is because all four teams are considered capable of getting through the group.   That’s the working definition of that term.  And I can assure you that Germany, Portugal, and Ghana is not taking the U.S. lightly.  And re having a foreign coach, the US has had American coaches before (Arena, Sampson, Bradley) with some success and some failure.  There’s nothing noteworthy about the particular nationality of a coach — it’s what their vision is, how they choose players and motivate them, etc.
Regards,
Keith Mattson

5 Responses to “Observations from a soccer enthusiast”

  1. innocent observer:

    agree with Mr. Mattson that soccer is a great sport for all. However, in the US, there are 3 major sports with longer history than soccer, played in separate seasons but spanning the whole year. Americans love baseball, basketball, and football. unfortunately, soccer while it has become popular in the US, it has yet to achieve a "major" sport status, that is why it is not covered much by the media.


  2. Dave Reardon:

    If the ratings continue to trend the way they are, soccer will get more coverage in coming years, I think, as more editors and producers act on the numbers (as well as advertisers) ... similar to MMA coverage.


  3. Steve P:

    Mr. Mattson brings an important point to the table. The media plays a key role in the promotion of any activity and could no doubt do more to help promote soccer.


  4. chopsueyboy:

    Great win for USA over Ghana. Wish we spent less time on our half of the field, but glad we're able to score the winning goal.

    We had the opportunity to have former Notre Dame's Mens Soccer Coach, Mike Berticelli, here around the year 2000 to coach our son's team during Easter vacation. He shared his view that soccer wouldn't be as creative in US until the kids just play. Too often with organize soccer, that's all the kids have and don't learn to be creative. They need to be more like basketball where you go one on one in a pickup game, or just play catch in football and baseball. Until kids in US grab a friend to go outside and kick a soccer ball, we'll never move on.

    Here's a poem he wrote about a youth soccer coach

    http://www.yourepeat.com/watch/?v=rO_UyVZ9ki0


  5. Group G:

    Great read, Mr. Mattson. Soccer IS growing in the United States. Regarding Major League Soccer (MLS), here's some information from the current year.

    MLS just signed a $90 million per year TV contract with ESPN/Fox/Univision this year. Not anywhere near NFL contract level but a significant increase from the previous $30 million per year deal.

    New collective bargaining agreement is almost certain to increase the MLS salary cap. More money to bring in better talent and also help maintain MLS' talent base.

    Since 2011, average MLS fan attendance actually surpassed the average attendance of the National Basketball Association. MLS is now the 3rd most attended professional sport in the US.

    NFL, NBA, and MLB ownership have staked their own claim in MLS franchise ownership/expansion. Not to mention Manchester City's (English Premier League) partnership with the Yankees to bring fledgling New York Football Club to MLS in 2015.

    Add to that, NYFC's first signing is Spanish international David Villa (World Cup Champion, UEFA Champion, and La Liga Champion). I'm excited, for sure. And David Beckham's looking to create a franchise in Miami (stadium pending).

    Nearly half of the USA's 2014 World Cup Roster comes from MLS (...and Brazil's goalkeeper).

    No doubt, soccer in the USA is growing in popularity by leaps and bounds!


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