Wednesday, May 12, 2010

States of soccer

I remember Alan Hansen saying during the 1994 World Cup that he hoped football never caught on in the United States. The reason: they'd end up being better than us.

We might have reached that point. The US are preparing for their sixth World Cup on the bounce. Scotland are missing out for the third time in a row.

2010 will be the tenth US appearance at the finals, we've only made eight. Three times they've escaped the group stages. You know the rest...

But the impression lingers that the US somehow doesn't get football. We retain a certain aristocratic aloofness when we look at their attempts to "do soccer."

We should reassess. They have a decent national side, a strong grassroots and - my anecdotal evidence would suggest - have a thriving network of bloggers and other media spreading the word.

In the Scottish Football Blog's first guest post, and with the World Cup only weeks away, Annette Lyndon looks at the growth of football in the States:


The 2010 South African FIFA World Cup is fast approaching. Fans from all over the globe will be flocking to South Africa to watch their countries compete. Excitement is building as the opening match approaches (June 11th). Football, or soccer, is the world’s sport, and mounting anticipation can only be expected. However a high level of enthusiasm is coming from an unlikely nation this year, the USA.

While sports are an integral part of American culture, soccer never really gained popularity as a primary spectator sport. For many years soccer was accepted as a popular team sport for youths and never caught on in the mainstream arena. But recently soccer has taken flight and is becoming more than recognized as part of the American sports lineup. Major League Soccer (MLS) was founded in 1993 and today has 16 major league teams. The sport has also attracted a large number of individuals from many backgrounds. Soccer teams and clubs are increasing in popularity in US inner cities. Role models, like Cobi Jones from the LA Galexy, have demonstrated minority involvement within the sport and are encouraging youths from different ethnicities to adopt playing it as well. Soccer has also developed as an important sport for women. In the US, 35% of all soccer players are female, one of the highest percentages of women participants around the world. Soccer in America is helping to cross racial, as well as gender, lines.

While the United States has their own teams, fans are broadening their horizons and watching international play as well. Many American soccer fans have begun to follow popular foreign teams like Spain’s Real Madrid and England’s Manchester United. Yet, when the World Cup begins, you can be sure that the majority of the country will be supporting the USA.

As of March 31st, the USA ranks 16th out of the total 204 world teams who entered to take part in the games and qualified for the tournament. The USA is scheduled to play its first match against England on the 12th of June. An overwhelming number of American fans are traveling to South Africa to see the US play. It is reported that Americans stand second after South Africans as primary ticket holders for the tournament.

While American fans may have to fly overseas this year to attend the festivities, in the future they may not have to leave their own backyard. The United States is being considered as the host country for the 2018 World Cup. Former President Clinton’s top counselor, Doug Band, has accepted an invitation to join the Board of Directors as a member of the USA Bid Committee in an attempt to bring the World Cup to the US in 2018 or 2022.

Adding him to the committee should increase the chance that the U.S. has at winning the bid since Doug Band is known worldwide for his international philanthropic initiatives, thus improving the relationship the U.S. has with over 170 foreign countries. Ultimately, the hope is that the committee effort will continue to boost soccer enthusiasm in the US and bring the nation to the forefront as a serious contender for the bid to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.

Annette is a contributing writer at Your Source 4 Sports and Sports A La Mode.