COMMENTARY: America's 'Ugly' Affair with Soccer is Mystifying

Charles E. Sutton | 6/11/2014, 5 p.m.
Soccer just can't catch on in the United States. Is the game beneath Americans because it's foreign?
Courtesy of fifa.com

For decades, I've been puzzled by America's attitude toward soccer. Parents all across this country of ours encourage their boys and girls to participate in the great international game. There are youth soccer leagues coast to coast that are littered with some of tomorrow's great athletes.

Strangely enough, though, once these kids become teenagers, the vast majority of them seem to abandon the game they once couldn't get enough of, avoiding it as if it was the plague. It's almost a rite of passage now — you turn 13, you turn away from soccer and focus on American sports. That’s right, American sports! Not a game from a foreign country.

When I came to this realization, America's apathy about soccer made much more sense: maybe we think we're too good for the game, or, more accurately, the game isn't good enough for us.

Why would the U.S. have such an elitist attitude about a recreational activity, you ask? Well, it comes naturally to some of us. You see, many born-and-bred citizens of this country are afflicted with the "ugly American" syndrome. We've all met this guy before. He's the one that's in Rome, but refuses to speak a single word of Italian. For him, America's ice is the coldest, its water the wettest. The United States is at the top of the food chain, and every other country is beneath it.

As much as we hate to admit it, there are lots of "ugly Americans" all around us. In fact, some would argue that there's a little "ugly American" in all of us. I’m hopeful that one day we'll gain a greater appreciation for foreign cultures, art, cuisine and, yes, even sports.

We're certainly not there with soccer yet, and it's a shame, because we don't know what we're missing. It's a great game featuring end-to-end action. Its activity level is much higher than that of baseball and American football (yes, ugly American — American football… soccer is what's known as football nearly everywhere else on Earth).

Think not? Consider this: during an NFL game, 94 percent of the time we're waiting for the next play. The average amount of time the ball is actually in play during an NFL game is approximately 11 minutes. Those other 49 minutes are all down time. Not to mention that the typical football play only lasts 4 seconds. Remember all of this the next time the game clock is running while an offensive lineman slowly lumbers to the huddle.

Plus soccer players are among the most talented athletes in the world — and the most physically fit. The only American sport that may demand as much running as soccer may be basketball. Not to take anything away from hoopers, but they do get to play in a climate-controlled environment (right, LeBron?). Soccer players run in heat, rain and, on rare occasions, snow. Yet they run on.

Historically, soccer has been the most popular sport in the world, and that's still the case. Its games are played in some of the world's largest stadiums, including London's 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium and Rio de Janeiro's 80,000-seat Maracana Stadium. When you look at the international sports landscape, soccer is clearly the dominant sport. Ugly American, you're missing out, and it's by your own choice.

But it's not too late to come aboard — in fact, the timing's perfect, as the FIFA World Cup is upon us again. For those unfamiliar, every four years, the world's best soccer teams come together to compete in an international tournament. In effect, it's the world championship of soccer. Think of it as soccer's version of March Madness, ugly American, only no amateurs involved.

While the rest of the world watches with full appreciation, I can only hope that the "ugly American" will for once take off the blinders and watch with an open mind. Come on, America! Try it — you just might like it.