Will America ever love soccer like Brazilians?

June 10, 2010

brazilfan2The following is a guest post by Dan Friedman, a former captain of the Cambridge University soccer team, a contributor to the New York Times soccer blog and a qualified New Jersey soccer coach. He is also the Arts and Culture editor for the Jewish Daily Forward. The opinions expressed are his own.

As Africa hosts the biggest sporting tournament the world has ever seen, the world is watching. Huddled around television sets in favelas and townships, villages and suburbs, towns and cities across the globe, billions will tune into FIFA’s World Cup 2010. By whatever name — football, calcio, futbol — soccer truly is the world’s game.

Across Europe, Asia and Africa, advertisers are falling all over themselves to endorse official products and to use players and logos in their spots. But not in America, the richest, and arguably most sports mad, country in the world. Here the desperate hype of those outlets that have the rights to cover the tournament barely makes itself heard over the NBA and Stanley Cup finals.

Still, despite the absence through injury of David Beckham — the only soccer player instantly recognizable to most Americans — the mouthwatering opening game against England on Saturday has garnered some attention. When these two teams last met — in the 1950 World Cup — the motley American team of semi-professionals pulled off an amazing upset in Belo Horizonte, Brazil against England’s self-styled “Kings of Football.”

But what was the outcome of the American team’s “miracle on grass”? Silence, general apathy and a return to watching baseball for those who had even paid the slightest attention to the soccer. Despite the glamorous but ill-fated North American Soccer League of the 1970s, it took almost half a century and the intervention of Henry Kissinger to bring the 1994 World Cup to the United States. And within three years “The Simpsons” was already lampooning soccer as a sport so boring that it bred hooliganism between supporters fighting to leave the stadium first.

As the teams walk onto the field in Rustenberg, South Africa this Saturday, there will be a sizeable viewing audience in America. Perhaps it will be difficult to measure the exact number since American patriots and English expats will crowd into bars to watch the game. But the passion will be for the event, not the game. Although more Americans play soccer than ever before, although the women’s team is the reigning Olympic champion and although the MLS is improving quality year by year, America doesn’t love the game the way Brazil loves the game.

In John Cleese’s 2006 documentary “The Art of Football from A to Z” he compares the brief spurts of action in football to the longer freeform periods of play in soccer: “Football is played like a series of advertizing jingles while soccer is played like jazz.” America hasn’t yet grasped the fact that soccer is much more like baseball than football. It’s a game of the head played with the body through a hundred years of history and culture.SOCCER-WORLD/

After losing to Uruguay in the 1950 final, the Brazilians went through a period of soul-searching. Mixing the samba with skill and fitness they produced Pele and his cohorts who drove the exhilarating and dominating Brazilian soccer teams to win the World Cup in 1958, 1962 and 1970 while inspiring, with their stylish play, the phrase “Jogo Bonito” — the beautiful game. Unlike America and even Europe, Brazilians love the game not only with their hearts and their heads but also their hips.

As an Englishman in New York, raised on the disappointments of my home team Leeds United and a national team who expect to win each World Cup but have only won it once, 44 years ago, I am all too aware of the dangers of the passion I am trying to teach my young American daughters. They are still young, but I hope that, whether they support England or America on Saturday they will love the game like Brazilians.

Read related commentary: “Dreams of a Rabid Fan.”

Top: A Brazilian soccer fan sings as he watches the World Cup soccer match between Brazil and Ghana in Rio de Janeiro June 27, 2006. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
Bottom: A fan waves the U.S. flag during a USA versus Turkey international friendly soccer match in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 29, 2010. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Fans of Fox Soccer , Reuters Soccer. Reuters Soccer said: Will America ever love soccer like Brazilians? http://link.reuters.com/qyd49k […]

Posted by Tweets that mention Will America ever love soccer like Brazilians? | Analysis & Opinion | — Topsy.com | Report as abusive

The day the US fields a “Michael Jordan” who can take on a game singlehandedly, we’ll see a sea-change in US attitude. We like to win, and if we can’t, well – who cares!

Posted by christiansarkar | Report as abusive

Were getting better and while we may never have this as our national pastime, the following for this game continues to grow.

Oddly, in America, Soccer is the first sport played by many American children. Because of its basic simplicity and low dollar investment, it is the sport where many American children first go to understand sportsmanship and team play through programs that start children as young as 2 to 3.

But it doesn’t last. Most all of the truly elite (and average) athletes are seduced by America’s big four sports: American Football, Baseball, Basketball, & Hockey.

Historically, the best possible US talent, those with the types of skills needed for elite Soccer, stop playing soccer as their sport of choice around age 8 to 10.

The talent pool shrinks to a level where the average US player in over 16 soccer has far less talent and athletic gifts than those found in Brazil, a country where the vast majority of children never lose focus on The Beautiful Game.

The book “Outliers” tells a great story in terms of understanding the alignment of individual circumstance, timing and focus, and why some fail where others succeed.

On the other hand, the US is far more likely to field a World Cup champion centuries before Brazil could field a winning American style Football team.

Posted by NobleKin | Report as abusive

Just name the game its proper name – it’s FOOTBALL, stupid! And what’s called “football” here in the USA is more like rugby, or whatever, but not football as it’s known in the rest of the world.

Posted by anonym0us | Report as abusive

You are wrong in that not only Brazilians love the game. Argentinians, Colombians, Mexicans, Peruvians, Uruguaians and other Latin Americans also love the game in their own ways. Africans love the game and play the game in their own style. Germans, English, Italians, Dutch, Russians and many more Europeans that I can list here worship the game in their own way as well. South Koreans, Arabs also feel the game in their veins. There is not just the Brazilian way as respectable as it may be.
Americans attitude towards football/soccer will change when they start feeling the love for the game in their own way. In the meantime, it is their loss, like not knowing how to appreciate a Leonardo, a great wine or a magnificent cuisine. I wish they could join this common and aesthetically beautiful language but if they don’t it is their loss. Their time will come.

Posted by Numero10 | Report as abusive

Just to add an observation to your post (you should mention the full name of Leonardo), probably the most part of americans they will think you are reffering to Leonardo DiCaprio!!! 😀

Posted by betonik | Report as abusive

Not if you keep calling it soccer?

Posted by slindley | Report as abusive

Are You Comparing countries or continents???
Brazil is a Country , America is a continent.
There is not country on earth called America.
There is a country called united States OF america, but please read the OF, OF OF, that says everything.
So stop spreading misinformation.
Remember gringos are the best Ignorant people don’t make the worst. ha ha ha.

Posted by Adamweishaupt | Report as abusive

[…] Will America ever love soccer like Brazilians? | Analysis & Opinion |17 hours ago by Katharine Herrup  Will soccer fever catch on in America with the 2010 World Cup? […]

Posted by Blogs – mommy blogs | Know Marketing Blog | Report as abusive

The main problem with soccer in the US is that there is no way for television and sports teams to make bundles of money. In every American sport, the time of play is broken up into hundreds of commercial minutes, allowing advertisers to pay big bucks to shill their products and for the teams and media to reap millions of dollars. Unfortunately, soccer is played un-interruptedly for two 45 minute periods, No commercial breaks allowed. Therefore, soccer will never be a popular sport in America. No money, no value, no TV exposure, no popularity.

Posted by usachris03 | Report as abusive

All the World Cup 2010 Games in South Africa will be streamed live at www.WorldCupTV.org 22:47

Posted by WorldCupTV.org | Report as abusive