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Give soccer a chance! Guiding Americans to the beautiful game

By AISHWARYA RAJE | November 4, 2013

At the 2014 FIFA World Cup next summer, soccer fans around the globe will rejoice in their love for the sport. But while the world celebrates the gathering of the most talented soccer players in the world, there is no doubt that the United States will show a striking lack of enthusiasm. It has always surprised me that the most influential nation on Earth is unable to share the rest of the world’s love for soccer. Of course there are plenty of soccer fans in the United States, but unlike other nations we have prevented the sport from becoming a part of our cultural identity. In fact, we don’t even care to refer to it by its proper name. For some reason, Americans insist on calling the sport “soccer,” even though the internationally common “football” is the most straightforward name for the game.

The accessibility of soccer allows the sport to have far-reaching effects on diverse populations and has greatly contributed to its global popularity. Playing soccer is not limited to professional athletes, allowing essentially anyone with a ball and a few friends can participate. The purpose of the game is very clear, and apart from a few technicalities the rules are simple to understand as well.

On the other hand, American football would most likely be impossible to follow for a foreigner. Why is this sport even called football? Why are there so many different positions? Why are some players jumping on the player holding the ball? From an objective standpoint, watching football for the first time can only result in pure confusion.

Nonetheless, this country has embraced football as a staple of Americana. If we are willing to embrace a sport that is complicated to understand, then why not soccer?

I understand that people have different preferences in terms of which sports they find appealing. I, for one, think baseball is incredibly boring (please don’t revoke my citizenship) but in this country soccer is generally met with apathy and disengagement. So far, I’ve encountered three reasons for this.

First, soccer is not seen as an “exciting” sport. Goals are not made as often as viewers would like, especially in higher level leagues. As a whole, Americans prefer constant action in sports. But the beauty and uniqueness of soccer lies not just in how many goals are scored, but how players display their athleticism and skill. While it may be underwhelming to see a score of 0-1 after 90 minutes, soccer should be judged based on how the game was actually played. Plus, the unpredictability and rarity of goals makes them — and the game itself — all the more thrilling.

A second reason for American apathy is that American professional soccer is usually not the best. Specifically, men’s professional soccer has been the source of much scrutiny after years of average results. The team is able to play competitively on the international level, but when faced with the world’s most successful countries in soccer such as Brazil, Spain and Argentina, the US typically falls short.

It is natural to have minimal interest in a sport in which your country does not dominate, but it is important to remember that the US men’s team has in fact qualified for the World Cup next year and is under the management of legendary former German striker Jurgen Klinsmann. Over the past few years, the men’s national team has steadily improved, and this progress will hopefully give Americans more interest and incentive to follow the sport.

The final American critique of soccer is that it is widely regarded as a kid’s sport given its popularity among young children. The seemingly simplistic style of play combined with the lack of specific equipment makes playing soccer an attractive choice for young kids. For this reason, soccer has the stigma of being exclusively for children. However, soccer requires an incredible amount of physicality, agility and pure skill. Though there are various levels of difficulty in the sport, professional soccer teams rely heavily on techniques and stamina that only an adult would be able to master.

In many parts of the world, soccer represents much more than just a sport. It is ingrained in the culture and history of many nations. If so much of the international community can take part in enjoying soccer then why can’t we? Let’s give it a try. I promise, 90 minutes is much shorter than it seems.

Aishwarya Raje is a sophomore majoring in International Studies.

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