Soccer, football, fútbol, or whatever you'd like to call it, seems to be finally settling into the U.S., bringing with it a variety of known and perhaps unknown implications. Soccer has long been the global game, bridging gaps between cultural canyons that before seemed untraversable.
The United States, although they have earned certain connotations through other means, have always missed out on the party and have been unable to share a certain camaraderie with other countries due to their lack of involvement in the sport. While the rest of the world was occupied by various competitions that captured the attention of nations big and small, Americans seemed far too busy ramming into each other at high speeds on a variety of surfaces to notice. However, with the explosion of soccer interest both domestic and international becoming increasingly legitimate, does the new age of soccer in the U.S. bring with it unforeseen implications?
Major countries across the globe take their participation and performance in this sport very seriously. For a game that technically only brings us all, or at least the best 32 countries, together every four years, massive weight and expectation are heaped on the 23 brave souls that don their nation's colors -- just ask any England player. But with the emergence of MLS, the U.S. has started to make a name for itself domestically and abroad in footballing terms.
The 2010 and 2014 World Cups saw the men in red white and blue come out of their groups, competing fiercely and going out of the competition by razor-thin margins. Meanwhile, the women of the United States have enjoyed a World Cup win, along with a runners up medal in 2011. The importance of success at this pivotal time for soccer in the United States cannot be stressed enough.
Though the fantastic success of the women's team has bolstered youth development for girls, at the current moment the men's game holds more weight across the international community. Therefore, it's development can be seen as more integral in the kindling of the flame that is American soccer interest. Without success, teams become harder to get behind and support, so the relative success of the men's national team coupled with the development and growth of MLS along with the popularization of the FIFA video games has allowed for soccer to grip the nation.
"So what?" some may say. At various times in recent years and across the span of commercialized sports, a variety of different team games have taken precedence over the rest and been hailed as the new craze. However, the difference with soccer is that no game is as globally accepted, leaving the interested viewer with a bevy of niche's to become engrossed in.
Though American football, as well as the NBA, is making its attempt to appeal to a more international audience by hosting regular season games in different countries, the history of kicking a ball around is already a concrete part of just about every major continent. South and Central America, Europe, and Africa all maintain a rich history of footballing success. The game is ingrained in the culture of a multitude of nations and is often seen as much more than just a sport.
Laurence McKenna of The Front 3 podcast recently spoke about the catastrophic failure of the England team at Euro 2016. In summary, he aligned the country's exit from the European Union, a decision taken by referendum earlier that week, with the attitude of the players and staff that seemed less than bothered by the performance on the pitch after going out to massive underdog Iceland. McKenna, certainly in my eyes and in others', is seen as one of the most respected and original podcasters/ football journalists out there, and his comparison between one of the UK's most important political decisions and their performance at Euro 2016 is telling.
The people of footballing communities see that the game has a palpable effect on their perception on the international stage, and due to its interactive nature with other nations, not being involved in the global game has hampered the U.S.'s ability to socially relate to other countries. This thought is further reflected by China's president, Xi Jinping, and his feelings towards the importance of football.
In 2014, Xi announced China's plan to create an $850 billion sports economy with football at the heart of it. $850 billion doubles the estimates of any existing sports economy, so the undertaking is one of gargantuan proportions. One may wonder why football over any other sport, but other than the aforementioned reasons of the seeds of the game already sewn across the globe, Xi sees it as a way to be accepted across the international community. These are bold assumptions for a writer, one may say, but these are the words of Simon Chadwick, a professor at Salford University. Watch:
This is the future one could envision for the United States. No major sports in the U.S. have the capability to hold such political implications because of the lack of competition on an international level. When communities share a common interest, lingual, economic, and social barriers can be broken down much easier. The U.S. has spent enough time missing out on being a true part of the international community from a social perspective, and only soccer has the uniting power to do so.