It wasn’t until I moved to Germany, but especially since the 2014 FIFA World Cup, that I actually watched a single game of soccer. Okay, so technically I’d seen a few games before — one in Portland and another one in Seattle — but I had no idea who was playing or what was going on because I wasn’t paying attention. Why wasn’t I paying attention? Two reasons: 1.) I don’t follow sports because I am a huge nerd, and 2.) I am American.
Oddly enough, lots of American kids actually grow up playing soccer. I know I did, and I hated every minute of it. I had no coordination at all, and my grasp of the mechanics of the game were confused at best. It just seemed like a bunch of kids running around in a cluster, kicking each other in the shins until the ball went out of bounds. I’ve seen the old VHS tapes my Dad recorded in the 1980s, and they’re exactly like that — like a pack of yipping hyenas toying with a baby gazelle until it dies.
My soccer team was named “Footloose” and I once earned a trophy with the title, “Mr. Offense” engraved on the front. Although I was proud of that trophy, I never felt like I’d earned it — probably because the “offense” I provided all summer consisted entirely of itching beneath my shin guards and staring off into space. I don’t even know which position I played. Probably defender. Anyway, I never put together the fact that every single kid on my soccer team got an award each year, and that my contributions to the game involved absolutely no goals scored ever. Ever.
Given the popularity of soccer among American kids, it seems odd we don’t really follow the sport into adulthood. It begins as a “soccer mom” hobby, with all the minivans and orange slices, but it stays there. Oh sure, it’s gaining popularity every year, especially in cities like my hometown of Portland, Oregon, which has it’s own professional team (the Portland Timbers), but soccer still trails far behind football, baseball, basketball and hockey. I have a few theories on why Americans have been so reluctant to embrace the sport, and they are as follows:
- We only root for winners.
Americans are all about winners. Heroes. Legends. VIPs. We think very highly of ourselves, and we abhor anything which might take away from our godlike confidence. Obviously our national soccer team has become a force to be reckoned with, and a US victory in the World Cup is an inevitability, but we’ve been very reluctant to commit ourselves to our team. I think we would rather turn our backs on the sport entirely — coming up with reasons for our disdain after the fact — rather than feel the sting of defeat in the global arena. It’s like we allow for absolutely no learning curve when it comes to competing against other countries. If soccer were checkers, we wouldn’t flip over the board because we lost; we just wouldn’t play the game at all. “Pffffft, Checkers. That game is for fags.”
- We don’t like sharing the ball.
Soccer is very much a team sport. Virtually every single goal is assisted in some way by another player, and getting the ball near the goal in the first place probably required the entire team working together in unison. You can’t really have a Michael Jordan running up and down the court, schooling everyone single-handedly. Or a Mark McGwire, crushing home runs with arms that are thicker around than my thighs. Sure, there are the stars — the big names, like Thomas Müller on the German national team, Lionel Messi with Argentina and Neymar Da Silva Santos Júnior, who took a Columbian knee to the spine playing for Brazil — but the game really comes down to fundamentals, like passing, position and crossing. I think Americans find fundamentals boring; the back-and-forth of it, seemingly without end. What we want to see is one person, one shining, heroic example of all that is man, rise up and crush the other team with high drama and sweat-soaked glory (and bloodshed, if possible).
- We are disgusted by diving.
“Flopping,” “diving” or “taking a fall” — whatever you want to call it — we hate it. Americans are a macho bunch, and we pride ourselves on our ability to dish out a beating… or take one. Seeing a grown man throw his arms up in the air, twist his face in pain and roll around on the ground like he’s dying — only to see him stand up a few seconds later and continue playing like nothing ever happened — makes us sick to our stomachs. I don’t think anyone actually likes flopping. Even my German wife makes fun of it, putting the back of her hand to her forehead, crying, “I’m dying, I’m dying.” The first time I saw someone take a dive, I was positively outraged. “What is this shit? WHAT IS THIS SHIT!?” So, to me, it seems like the rest of the soccer-loving world puts up with flopping like it’s a necessary evil. Sure, they’ll roll their eyes, but they have fully accepted it. Americans just aren’t ready to do the same… yet.
I loved watching the 2014 World Cup, especially as an American living in Germany. I was just so curious about everything, and with Germany winning it all and taking home that hideous trophy, I was in the perfect position to become a lifelong fan. I think a lot of people enjoyed the hell out of the World Cup — Americans included — and the sport is now more popular than ever.
It would be awesome if every country in the world had a vested interest in competitive soccer. I think it would bring us all a little closer together. I’m not saying it would give us world peace or anything, but it might make us a little more respectful. Like the Olympics. Have you ever wanted to punch a man in the throat just because he won a gold medal and he wasn’t from your country? If a woman from another country defeats the woman from your country, does that really make you want to slap her in the tits? No. It makes you respect the athlete — and hopefully the country from whence they came — and try to do better next time.
So let’s watch a little more soccer, America! We have an awesome team! (And we even stole Jürgen Klinsmann, a badass coach from Germany.) Speaking of Germany, let’s cheer for them now… and then kick their hairy asses in the 2018 World Cup!
Read more about my experiences as an American expat in Germany watching the FIFA 2014 World Cup.
Loved this. I had a similar experience here in the states…my best friend is German, so we watched the World Cup together this time (well, sort of–together from 300 miles apart, thanks to the magic of the internet, lol). I told her that I would grudgingly admit that it was better than I had admitted in the past; I’m also not a sports person. The truth is, it was pretty good all around, though. And I think you’re on the right track with the thought that acceptance of soccer would go a long way toward acceptance of the rest of the world in general. Great article!
Thank you Timewalkerauthor! I’m so glad you liked the post.
And thanks for commenting! Please come back soon!
Great post! My fiancée pretty much experienced the same as she is the American living in Germany. I think the biggest reason is the flopping. Everyday I felt like I had to excuse my interest in the sport when I saw one of my American friends post on facebook why they don’t watch soccer.
One reason you missed is the amounts of breaks or commercials to get up from the seat to grab a hot dog and beer-flavored water ;)
Honestly, do you think it’s conspicious that basically 2/3 of MLS’s teams come from blue states? (Unfortunately) I’ve never been to the states yet, but it seems like ‘conservative’ / agricultural states stick to Football and Nascar – something I can totally understand by the way :D
I watched the World Cup here and there, but I couldn’t get into it. I try to like soccer, but I just don’t.
Fine post on American reasons. I became a soccer fan when I watched the 2010 World Cup. These guys moved! American Football, to me, was boring with guys covered by heavy equipment just piling up all over each other, waiting for time out to do it again, and,
once in a while, running across the field for three yards before falling down. I was in agreement with one of my male Slovak students who said, “American football is too slow.” I was happy to see the incredible turnout of American fans at the Cup this year.
Loved it! Very insightful! I think you make valid points about why the Yanks can’t seem to get into soccer! It would do us good to be sincerely interested in the international game long-term & to develop our own players instead of just buying the world’s best pre-trained athletes from other countries. It was said here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. during World Cup that when the Americans play Germany, it’s really Germany against Germany–you’ve probably heard that one. To me, buying other countries’ star soccer players (or ANY athletes, for that matter, sends a message to the world that, absent any REAL effort to develop out OWN players, we Yankees think we can just shortcut our way to the top because we’ve got the dough. That is true of course, but it embarrasses me personally that we continue to do it that way! C’mon, ‘Merica! We’re better than that, dammit! Put down the video games, and let’s REALLY develop our own gifted athletes! I know they’re out there!
interesting post, and you make some good observations with which I agree
I can’t resist sticking my oar in, though, at this comment . . .
Americans are a macho bunch, and we pride ourselves on our ability to dish out a beating… or take one.
far from being ‘macho’, from a UK perspective, american football players look like a bunch of ‘pansies’ – what with the helmet, face visor, and layers of padding – compared to our rugby players who punch, grapple, gouge, kick, and stomp on one another without any of the protective clothing and headgear of american football players :lol:
I think in Germany foodball is connected to history in a special way. Winning in ’54 meant to gain some kind of national feeling back, some kind of unity. In ’90 again, in the year of reunification. So watching the national team in the World Cup or European Cup is some kind of civil duty, like voting. You don’t have to know anything about soccer or watch in ever, just be dedicated during the WC or EC to feel the national unity. Maybe the celebration is the US equivalent, in tearm of feeling national unity.
My theory about Americans not liking soccer is, that in the US it is seen as a sport to learn team play and fair play. Its a sport for kids and women, played fair and gentle. In Europe/rest of the world it is seen as a replacement for war. So “real” soccer is played by men, in a team and with all dirty means necessary like diving, grabbing, punching, kicking.
It suprised me to learn that Americans were taken back by diving, because I grew up associating soccer with brutality, see it as a violent game. Framed by that, diving is using the simulation of a very probable injury to gain benefit. Tactical foults and yellow cards are sacrifices for the team and the win. Maybe its a matter of associations.
American Equivalent would be the 4th of July. :-)
Were you aware that Bayern-München is playing the MLS all-stars in Portland on August 6th? I would love to be there to see Robben dive in America. Poor MLS…not gonna know what hit them.
I laughed at the diving bit. Hockey players get penalized for that crap I the States!
Found a nice link to article
But plz (postleitzahl/please) DONT’T CALL IT SOCCER…European football would be ok ;)
I like it pretty much because it plays for 90 minutes with minimal stops in the action, whereas in American football, and hour game take three hours to complete, there are so many interruptions and stops in the action.
Televised American football has so many commercial breaks, in fact, I’m surprised the guys on the field even break a sweat from all the rest they get.
Also, there is a gladiatorial quality about men (and women!) in shorts that’s lacking in men wearing 50 pounds of padding and protection.
Besides, I think they dive because they know we need to feel superior to them for some reason, given they are trained, in condition athletes, and we are sacks of fat that are largely sedentary.
was nice read this article but i have abig question, north american are so bad playing soccer instead south american people not; for this reason this sport move most people.
Your first point about winners is dead on. Why is we call the baseball championships in America the World Series? Canada is the only other country represented. Getting schooled by another country is just not something we tolerate well, which totally translates to our lack of interest in what the rest of the world calls football. Great post!
Might help if soccer scored more than one point in an average game…just sayin’
Hey. I’ve nominated your blog for the Liebster Award: http://tuckedintoacorner.wordpress.com/2014/07/26/liebster-award/
Honestly, I think the Americans forgot something very important: In all the sports in which people routinely clash into each other, they wear protective gear. Football players don’t, and getting hit while running at full speed, especially in an era with a lot of pain receptors, hurts. So yes, diving is a problem, but when a player goes down it is not always a dive. Just look at Schweinsteiger in the final. The clash he had looked like nothing first, even when the fist got visible from another angle, it didn’t look that forceful either. And yet he was looking like a went a round with Tyson after the game.
I think the true issue with football is simply that this is one sport in which they are not on the top (naturally woman football is more popular because, hey, there the US team is actually pretty good). And Klinsmann or not, I don’t see the team winning a World Cup title anytime soon. They are still one step below the big football nations.
This one is for all you guys out there who think those pads they wear in American Football make a big difference:
My husband has a theory about why professional soccer hasn’t made it in the US — American football has lots of time-outs; that translates into commerical breaks; that translates into lots of money. Soccer, not so much — other than the World Cup, what US broadcast network is willing to forego all that advertizing revenue. You can pretty much bet that if there were a way to generate the same level of revenue as they generate with football, basketball, and baseball, there would be professional soccer in the US, where our motto is: Cash pays the rent.