Forgive me if I’m a little bit too American at times. I grew up and remain a devoted baseball fan. I love football, and go crazy over the NBA Playoffs. I enjoy watching hockey, though I’ve never been able to follow a single team (once Seattle lands their squad, I’ve got my guys). I eat way too much greasy food, wear curve-brimmed hats, I’ve never left the continental United States, and feel like I’m above the curve because I’ve mastered a second language. I’m American. One thing I’ve always, unapologetically, publicized is my disdain for soccer. Specifically, American soccer.
Nobody can put it better than Billy Haisley at Deadspin did:
Yep, Major League Soccer, the land of has-beens and never-weres, is about to start back up, and nobody cares.
The efforts by MLS fans to replicate European chants and songs and scarfs and language are sickening. The word “cheeky” has no place in American vocabulary, yet the most devout (incredulously so) Real Salt Lake fan, Adidas indoor soccer shoes and drawstring bag in tow, throws it out like I actually know or care what he’s talking about. They feign British accents far more than anyone should (the correct number of appropriate situations is zero), and nothing gets their heart pumping like a rousing ‘Ole’ chant with their fellow fans of mediocre soccer.
All of that outrage aside, there wouldn’t be anything mediocre about it if there wasn’t something excellent to compare it to. That excellence isn’t hard to find; it’s in Europe. It’s in the leagues that don’t have playoffs and where a championship can be won during a game where the team loses. It’s in the countries where entire schools and academies are dedicated to the game, and have done so for over a century. Soccer is in their blood , whether they like it or not, but usually they love it.
The success of athletes like Zlatan Ibrahimovic in MLS is a clear example of the superiority and dominance of the European game over the weird crap fielded in the States. He flew in, put on his cleats, and came off the bench to score two goals in his first MLS game. I don’t even think he stretched. He had to have felt how any dude feels playing sports with his kids; you let them run around and have their fun, but maybe one play or so you put in some effort and score, and it’s so easy it doesn’t even feel remotely fulfilling. Zlatan took off his shirt for the show, not out of satisfaction or celebration. He’s just stoked to get paid to live in LA and play the equivalent of European beer league soccer.
Players in Europe do things that we Americans simply couldn’t comprehend seeing in person. Much like somebody who doesn’t see a LeBron James dunk in person doesn’t fully understand it, if you haven’t seen Lionel Messi thread one hundred needles with his feet and a soccer ball before putting it in the goal, it has to be impossible to fully understand.
I hereby declare my own resolution to more fully understand and appreciate soccer. No, not that American garbage; the true form in its true home, where it’s played and cheered for the way its supposed to be.