Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Sportswriter: Three Ideas for a Better American Soccer Fan

Being a soccer fan in America can breed paranoia. Perhaps because of its seasonal juxtaposition with football and all the instrinsic violence associated with that sport, a hint of an affinity for soccer attracts catcalls questioning one's manhood and hardiness. Moreover, critics of the sport even go so far as accusing any American who appreciates the "world's game" of being an un-American and undemocratic European socialist.

So it is that climate that I offer the beleaguered American soccer fan three ideas, an unfinished manifesto for the American soccer fan, if you will.

Talk American

My most eye-wincing experiences as an American soccer fan often occur when one of my fellow soccer aficienadoes throws out verbiage foreign to the ears of average Americans and--more important--to the culture of American soccer. (To add salt to the proverbial wound, such verbiage is usually uttered only after the mutterer has slipped into his best Madonna-esque British accent.) Therefore, American soccer fans should use language that is easily understood by the non-soccer fan in America. And speak a tongue that upholds the American soccer tradition.

Therefore, American soccer fans must cave to the inherent illogic of the matter and resist the temptation to call their sport soccer, not football. Moreover, they must not refer to the sport's footwear as boots; they are cleats. (Boots are what you wear in the Maine woods to combat ankle-deep mud.) Nor should they call the game's apparel a kit. It's a uniform, nothing more, nothing less. Just like a field is a field (not a pitch). And a game is, well, a game (not a match). And whatever they do, self-respecting American soccer fans must refuse to utter some of the more ridiculous monikers of some of the teams in Major League Soccer (MLS).

Indeed, despite the appropriate cultural, geographical, and/or historical relevancy of most of the nicknames in the league, there are a few annoying nicknames that should never be uttered by any self-respecting American soccer fan. The geographical soundness of the Colorado Rapids moniker, for example, is canceled out by the ridiculousness of FC Dallas (FC stands for futbol club). And the historical relevance of the New England Revolution is countered by the ahistorical sham that is Real Salt Lake (besides referring to a royal heritage that offends this country's republican roots, Real doubly offends the "Talk American" rule as it is pronounced ree-al in honor of the Spanish soccer power Real Madrid).

Defend Major League Soccer

Speaking of the MLS, it is every American soccer fan's duty to defend the home-grown league. Unfortunately, though, such a defense is considered uncool by too many in the American soccer community. The league just isn't as good as those found in Europe, the argument goes. Which is true, though I'd argue the MLS is underestimated both as a league featuring stellar international players, as well as a developmental league for homegrown talent.

In the 2002 World Cup, for example, of the 23 players on the United States team that was narrowly beaten by powerhouse in Germany in the quarterfinals (the captain of the German team
conceded in March 2006 that the Germans were lucky to win the game), 15 of them were either playing in the MLS at the time or had played in the MLS. In the 2006 World Cup, 80% of the 2006 World Cup team had experience in the MLS, which is remarkable considering an undermanned American side outplayed the eventual champions, Italy, in a 1-1 draw in the first round. (Of course, they also failed to escape the first round, but that contradicts my argument, so I won't dwell on that inconvient fact as much as the heartening result against the Italians.) And this year's Olympic squad, a team whose solid performance was outweighed by a tough group, featured a roster in which players with MLS experience accounted for 15 of the 18 slots.

Moreover, the final in this year's SuperLiga, a league made up of the best teams throughout North America, featured an all-MLS final when the New England (finally) beat the Houston Dynamo. And teams comprised of the best players in the MLS have dispatched such world powers as Celtic and Chelsea en route to 5-0 record against premier international clubs over the last five years. To be sure, the MLS can truly begin to crow when its regular teams are beating the likes of Barcelona FC, but the results compiled by the MLS's best players are nonetheless remarkable.

And finally, the league is growing. Attendance is improving (games in 2007 attracted an average of 16,770 fans, with the median attendance pegged at 15,960), the league is expanding (two teams in Seattle and Philadelphia are set to join the thirteen-team league over the next two years), and more than half the teams have constructed soccer-specific stadiums (besides representing a hopeful sign for the league's long-term viability, soccer-specific stadiums enhance the viewing experience by eliminating the football lines that mar pitches fields shared with a football team and by reducing the cavernous sensation that plague teams that share stadiums with NFL teams.

Vigorously oppose diving and playacting

The scene, unfortunately, is a common one: One player challenges another for the ball and nicks the attacking player in the ankle. To be sure, there's contact. But where there's contact in soccer, too often Oscar-worthy theatrics will follow. The aggrieved player will contort his body, his face will erupt into a grimace, and his mouth will emit a hollow howl. Once on the ground, he will clutch his ankle or knee and writhe around on the ground like a juvenile throwing a tantrum. Then, after receiving the call, he'll gingerly climb to his feet, take a few steps with a slight limp, then proceed to chase the ball with full speed not ten seconds later.

Now, I can brush aside much of the criticism haters have for soccer. I am untroubled by the common complaints that the game is boring, that the players are wimpy, and that fans are un-American. The one accusation I cannot disagree with, however, is the charge that soccer players are floppers and fakers. Therefore, every American soccer fan should protest dives and play-acting with a full throat.

Fortunately, FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, has made diving a cautionable offense. But the culture still breeds such ugly behavior, and it will only leak down to the lower levels. Therefore, every American soccer fan should applaud Iranian referee Masoud Moradi, who flashed Nigeria's Chibuzor Okonkwo a yellow card for diving in the penalty box in an Olympic game this summer.

The fact that the warning was issued while Okonkwo was being hoisted off the field by a face-saving stretcher made it only that much sweeter.

(Correction: I initially defined the 'FC' in FC Dallas as "football club." It actually stands for futbol club.)

- John C.L. Morgan


ChazHelms said...

Ponit of fact:

FC Dallas stands for "Futbol Club Dallas". Futbol is the spanish word for soccer. Your mention incorrectly states 'football' as in the American version of gridiron football (have you ever noticed that american football is played mainly with the hands???)

Westbrook Diarist said...

Thank you for the correction. As for your point about American football being referred to as football, what are you going to do? It is what it is.

Fran Harrington "thecastigador" said...

I totally agree with the second two points.

The first one not so much. I think it's inexcusably pretentious to refer to soccer as "football" or even worse "footy" in the US, but other terms I don't really have a problem with. I think US fans should be bilingual in their soccer jargon. It's a field AND a pitch, they're cleats AND boots, etc. No harm is knowing more words for the same thing.

Brad said...

Unless you use words like "lorry" for truck, "nappy" for diaper, and "lift" for elevator, it makes no sense to use "pitch" for field, "boots" for cleats, or "strip" for jersey. Why start talking like a Brit just because you're talking about soccer?

In a way, by using British sporting terminology when talking about soccer, you not only sound pretentious, you're also enforcing the idea that soccer is a sport for foreginers, that American soccer isn't any good, or that Americans don't understand soccer

Anonymous said...

Yeah, "pitch" is mistakenly thought of by many over here as a "soccer term." It's really just an Anglicism for "field" that's used in soccer, rugby, etc.

Fran Harrington "thecastigador" said...

"Why start talking like a Brit just because you're talking about soccer?"

I think you are misunderstanding what I was trying to say. I agree, there's no reason to start talking like a Brit, but it's good to know what these mean (for instance I never heard "strip" used to mean uniform before). I just also think it's not a big deal if someone calls a field a pitch or cleats boots.

Sean said...

People definitely need to start supporting MLS better. Elitists give fans shit cause teams play in cavernous stadiums which is beyond the team's control. DC, NYRB and New England are all subject to this issue when the attendance figures rival those of NHL and NBA games. It's been said hundreds of times: location, location, location.

Sentences shouldn't start w/ conjunctions.

Anonymous said...

What a colossal waste of time this blog entry is. To become a better American fan, maybe fans should stop worrying about what fucking guidelines fans need to follow. Grow up your pretentious fucking prick. Stop worrying about everyone else.

In the meantime I'm gonna go watch some footie, on the pitch, with a spot of bloody fucking tea.

Michael said...

I generally agree, but I also think there's no problem with 'boots' & 'pitch' as interchangeable with 'cleats' & 'field' (or, for example, 'pace'/speed & 'side'/team). But in general, the idea of American Soccer needing to be unashamedly American is important--the euro-posing actually holds back the development of an American soccer culture.

Westbrook Diarist said...

Everyone, thank you for your comments. They've been most informative and interesting.

Since Brad and Michael have captured my probable response with eloquence and succinctness, I refer you to their comments.

Fran, I agree with your belief that Americans should not be ignorant of the linguistics of soccer-loving nations around the world (for one thing, Americans would miss out on the literally colorful apsects of the game). I just think our slight disagreement may be in the quantity of use of those foreign terms, as opposed to the quality of their use.

Finally, I applaud the anonymous tea-drinking, footie-watching hater for his humor and ingenuity. I, um, apologize for forcing you to waste the brain cells and the precious minutes your witty comeback required.

Anonymous said...

You sum up the current state of the American soccer fan well in your blog entry. However, echoing thecastigator's comments, I don't really see it as a big deal to call a field a pitch. It's a way we differentiate soccer from other sports and doesn't really make much of a difference. Calling it 'football' is a different story - call it soccer in this continent but be aware the world calls it something else.

One thing you emphasized is the diving/acting aspect of soccer which is unfortunately characterized with the sport by people who don't follow/play the game. It's no fun getting spikes to the ankle or (insert body part here) so with the lack of pads compared to other sports, there could be an outward display of pain/grimacing. It's part of the game.

I think the bottom line is the American fan just needs to proud of soccer and not ashamed to be a soccer fan in this country.

martin said...

as long as we can still call tackles "decidedly agricultural" im fine with this

Adam Blake said...

I have read your blog about this however I have to disagree with renaming it just so we americans can figure it out. I love football(soccer) and all its glorious history. One could easily learn football verbage by watching, reading, or talking to football fans...I like the traditional names like fc and wish we had a Detroit FC..what I cant stand is the cartoonish way MLS has proceeded with stupid names like Dynamo and Crew... I am glad to see MLS moving toward traditional football but it has a long way to go..I watch the MLS but love the EPL. I no longer refer to football as football I refer to it as the NFL or College Football. We americans tend to ruin sports by changing them such as hockey...we need more goals we need penalty shootouts...its all b.s. anyway thats all I have to say for now. I have started my own blog please take a look

Anonymous said...

You're a Great American.

Anonymous said...

Like many, I think you are wrong on point 1, but for a couple different reasons:

A) You are assuming there can be only one fan culture in the US. That is not reality. The supporters culture in my city is very British, while cities like Houston are very hispanic. Most MLS cities are big enough to evolve multiple supporters groups over time. By not gentrifying and forcing a single US fan culture, people can gravitate to the groups they identify with like La Barra Brava and Screming Eagles in DC.

B) The cultural experience is important. One thing I liked as an american was learning something totally new. I like that we speak a different sports dialect than joe six-pack. This brings us together and adds to the unique appeal of the sport among other american sports.


The people that are afraid of foreign sounding terms are not going to be open to soccer anyway.

Dom said...

Speak American? Are you serious? Please tell me you are. We don't speak American in the United States, we speak English-the same English that came from England (really???)
If you need to change a few words because using "boots and pitch" are the problem with why soccer isn't popular here, maybe the problem is with the idiots who don't watch it because such "jargon" is used. Instead of changing the words and saying zero instead of nil, why not be a little more intellegent and accept that there are over 988,000 words with 10,000 added every year, there can be multiple words for the same thing.
Ever wonder why people think Americans are stupid? Stop feeding into the sterotype, cause we're not.

Anonymous said...

Passion is the only necessary ingredient. Vocabulary, quality of not that important at the end of day. Soccer in belgium or Morocco or south africa and China is not much better than it is in the US, yet people are going to the stadium and live and die for their team.

One way to bring passion would be to have:
- club owners and staff who are true soccer fans, and not coming there by opportunity to hope doubling their investment in 5 years, or because they were not good sports business execs enough to work for the NBA, NFL or MLB!

- Promotion and relegation is the key I believe. But it will never happen because no one in this country is passionate enough to take the risk to invest isn't a property that could be relegated...

- a real youth system competition within the league (MLS) structure. They tried to do something with the reserve team championship but it was not seriously done. European biigest clubs are made of players who a few years ago where in reserve teams, youth systems and 3rd or 4th division. Lok at drogba, ribery, Valbuena. ! year in 3rd divsion, teh next one socring goals in teh champions league! Look at clubs like dinamo Zagreb or Arsenal, growing the best players in the world within their you their youth systems...

- last ingredient: the soccer gene/chromosomes! For that, we need our generation, which is the first real and consistent generation in the US to be exposed to soccer so heavily, to have kids and convey their passion to their kids. And so on...

WE can talk for hours, but I think, these are key points.

By the way, just found out about a great charity game to be played in New York next jUne> Some of the best players in the world will be there like henry, drogba, anelka, and even C. ronaldo.

Check this out:
Great video

Website is nice as well: