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Brews and Views Essay Series: Why American Soccer?
Planting the Seed of Soccer Across America: Danny Beerseed
We continue our new series on the Free Beer Movement. It's called "Brews and Views" and we pose a question or topic to various prominent soccer persons and, well, they give us their view on it.
We've got loads of get people that have already responded to our call for essay submissions and each week we'll feature a unique perspective on the current topic/question at hand. Kicking it off (pun intended) we're asking our respondents the question, "Why American soccer?".
As inhabitants of the U.S. of A we've got loads of soccer viewing options and limited amount of time. We want our panel of essayists to make their case as to why the American version of the world's game is the one we should all invest in.
Regularly readers know where we stand on this issue. Buy American. It's ours. Build and shape it so it ranks as one of the premier leagues in the world.
The series will include such diverse voices as former U.S. Men's National Team player Alexi Lalas, The Shin Guardian, MatchFit USA's Jason Davis, Church of Soccer, Nutmeg Radio, FutFanatico, MLS Insider, and many, many more.
Interested in submitting your own answer to the question, "Why American soccer?", then send us an email with your response. Please keep your submission to under 1000 words (that's like 2.5 pages typed!) and include a picture that you feel goes well with your response. Send it to freebeermovement(at)gmail(dot)com.
MLS has been around for almost 5,700 days. That’s it.
On Day One, April 6, 1996, the San Jose Clash squared off against eventual champions DC United. At kickoff, the Internet as we know it today was a pipedream, analog cell phones were only in the pockets a few people who had hobbies like collecting classic cars and wine appreciation, Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg was an eleven year old harboring dreams of being sued, and #Twitter was ten years from launch. So many products, services and ideas that are now integral parts of our existence were isolated in the minds of science fiction writers and dismissed by countless others as utterly ridiculous. But that’s the story of human history, isn’t it?
If you tried to articulate what American soccer would look like in 2011 back on April 6, 1996, your family and friends wouldn’t be crazy to consider checking you into a facility where you would share sessions with the Lindsay Lohan of 1996, Robert Downey, Jr. But time has a way of catching up, and soon, our ridiculous science fiction fantasies become reality. That’s true in technology and soccer.
In context, five thousand seven hundred days isn’t a long time. In fact, one hundred years isn’t a very long time. One hundred years sounds like an eternity for many of us who are only several decades old, but one hundred years is also the age of a number of really old people, people who have seen society evolve in remarkable ways over the past century.
My surprisingly mobile, Kenyan grandmother is at least one hundred years old, but probably closer to one hundred ten. Calculating her exact age, aside from being unnecessary, is close to impossible because she doesn’t have a birth certificate. Nevertheless, we do know that she has lived through seeing her first white person, which is the equivalent of a person today sauntering around a corner and running into a green person; she heard English for the first time, and then saw English, a language she doesn’t speak, become an official language of Kenya, which, by the way, wasn’t even a country when she was born; and she saw a plane for the first time when she made the full-day journey (now a three hour drive) to the airport in Nairobi where she saw off her sixteen-year-old son who was embarking on a very random excursion to go study in some place called the United States. The next time she would see or speak to her son would be almost a decade later because there was no money for him to get back home and she didn’t have a phone. It would be decades until she got electricity.
In her century-plus of life, my grandmother has experienced independent rural living, then colonialism and the end of colonialism, the rise of metal boxes cruising around without animal assistance, and grandchildren, born to her son and Kenyan daughter-in-law in a land far, far away, who began visiting her about sixteen years after her son’s departure, oddly, speaking a language that was completely alien to her at a point during her adult life. And now, she periodically rides in her American, English-speaking grandson’s rented Toyota Corolla with her other Kenyan grandchildren, telling us tales of corruption and asking questions in Kimeru (her native language) about Obama's foreign policy and why people flew planes into buildings. That's a hell of a hundred years.
What’s all this have to do with anything? Good question.
To think that anything is out of the realm of possibility when we are only sixteen short years into a growing league shows a lack of appreciation of history and time. If we’re being honest, given how much can change in a relatively short period of time, guessing what American soccer will look like in just sixteen more years is about as difficult as my grandmother predicting that she would be comfortably riding in a Japanese car with me and my cousins in the 21st century.
Although the future is difficult to predict, we can recognize that American soccer has made phenomenal strides, morphing into a present that in many ways is unrecognizable from its form sixteen short years ago. We have financed and built major, sophisticated stadiums just for soccer. Real ones. That is unbelievable, science fiction fantasy on par with the Internet and personal cell phones to the average mind in the early to mid-1990s. It’s as mind-bending to an early 90s mind as my brother and I must have been to my grandmother.
These days, every summer, major clubs from around the world – Barcelona, Manchester United, Chelsea, Inter Milan – come to the United States to play our teams in our stadiums. We hear complaints, year after year, about how these friendlies are meaningless, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that similar mutterings have come out of my mouth, but the fact that they regularly exist is truly remarkable if we choose to operate with any measure of context.
In the last sixteen years, arguably, no soccer landscape has evolved as quickly as the US soccer landscape, a point those perpetually focused on shortcomings might miss. Of course, there is still work to do, but the foundation is already impressive. In context, so are the numbers. In 1995, average MLS attendance was zero (0). Today, league-wide attendance numbers hover around a much-more-than-respectable 17,000 spectators. In context, those numbers are at least admirable and, at most, fantasy numbers.
So, why American soccer? Because the greatest show on earth may be developing right in our backyard. That my sound asinine now, but perhaps not so much if you consider the rapid expansion and development that has taken place over the last sixteen years.
Twenty years from now, you'll be watching a documentary chronicling this period that's so compelling you'll wish you were there. Well you are. Now. Here’s how the documentary begins:
The growth of modern, professional American soccer is a fascinating tale of invisibility, failure, failure, North American Soccer League, failure, Major League Soccer, resilience, globalization, immigration, identity, curious models of competition, and meteoric ascension, all being told through a ball and some grass, or in the case of the Seattle Sounders, some sort of synthetic grassy stuff. At the beginning, few could confidently say that Major League Soccer would succeed; few could envision a US men’s national team consistently in the knockout stages of the World Cup; few could envision a Women’s World Cup. But against the odds, all of these fantasies have become reality, and we’re only at the beginning.
I’m not so sure my grandmother would enjoy the documentary. She doesn’t even have a television, and even if she did, her vision would prevent her from reading the subtitles, as would her inability to read. But I’m sure she could appreciate and attest to the value of supporting someone or something that has shown great potential and has made massive strides in a very short period of time, even if that person or thing at times seems thousands of miles away. As she is well aware, incomprehensible futures have a habit of quickly becoming reality, and the ride is often just as rewarding as the destination.
That's why American soccer.
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