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Comments by YACCS
Monday, May 22, 2006

Oh, those silly Americans and their soccer

The American team

World Cup fails to fan US football fever

With football's World Cup just weeks away, the BBC's Jamie Coomarasamy visits a Major League Soccer match in Washington DC, to find out if footie fever has struck in a country where "football" is played by men in shoulder pads and helmets.

As the minutes ticked towards kick-off at the top-of-the-table clash between DC United and the Kansas City Wizards, the atmosphere at the RFK Stadium was closer to that of a school fete than that of any professional football game I have ever attended.


USA team guide

"I never knew it would have so many family activities," she said. "We'll definitely be coming here regularly."

"But what about the USA World Cup team?" I asked her. "They're rated pretty highly."

"Are they?" she asked with a look that was initially blank, but clearly open to persuasion. "Well, I'm sure we'll be cheering them on."

Father and son fans

Just past a tombola stand, I met a more knowledgeable - and more conventional - football-going family: father and son Bob and Andrew Brown.

Bob, a civil servant in his 50s, told me that he had been going to DC United ever since they were formed 10 years ago.

He has travelled to England to see Liverpool, his club, and Chelsea play, and he could testify just how different the atmosphere was at Premier league games.

The Browns are - for the time being - a rare family in the United States, one where the father had passed his love of football down to his son.

The majority of fans milling around them were children - boys and plenty of girls - each wearing their favourite kit, each having dragged along unwilling-looking parents.

Free of fever

His 15-year-old son, Andrew, is a member of America's soccer generation.

Most of his friends play the game, he told me, although that does not necessarily mean that they have caught World Cup fever.

He will certainly be following Team USA, but I asked him how many of his school friends would be taking an interest.

"Oh, about 20 kids in my grade," he told me. "Out of 300."

If the United States win the World Cup, there may be a similar burst of enthusiasm from America's soccer moms and dads - although it is most likely to come from their kids.

Two points: 20 kids who care about the World Cup are about 10 more than who would care about the Stanley Cup, but the pre-Cup PR has just started. The SI issue and the newpaper features are at least two weeks out, so most people are still deep into baseball season. The Mets are making an incredible run, having spanked the Yankees, and the Red Sox in first place.

Then you have the fact that to many Americans, soccer is simply a new sport

The second point is one I keep making, kids drive the new interest of soccer. If you go to a soccer match or even to a soccer bar, most of the crowd is under 40. It is driven by the fact that most kids do not play any other sport competitively. It is seen as a safe sport by women.

What would surprise a Brit is the variety of US sporting interest. The NBA is winding down it's season, football just held it's draft.

But American soccer, like women's basketball, caters to women and kids because that is their live fan base. American football is almost ossified in who sees their eiight home games a year
. Unless you have connections, you aren't going to a game. Baseball's still skews older. A lot of women would not feel comfortable at a stadium with the drinking and cursing, which is why minor league ball has had a resurgence, much more family friendly.

So you're going to see a lot of women being dragged to soccer.

Of course, to a Brit, where soccer IS the sport, this is akin to walking on the moon. Women, kids? What? Where are the supporters pubs? The songs? What is this?

But American soccer is growing exactly because it is the alternative to other American sports and does get children and their parents.

posted by Steve @ 10:12:00 AM

10:12:00 AM

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