Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

Jeff Pearlman loves soccer

Actually, I hate soccer. Really, truly find it boring as dirt on a moist stick. But, thanks to the magic that is Facebook, I have befriended another Jeff Pearlman—this one smart, successful, rich, etc. Well, I don’t know if he’s rich. But he’s a Dix Hills, N.Y. native and University of Maryland student who loves sports and—out of the goodness of his heart—agreed to create an essay for my blog. Plus, the guy apparently owns a suit purchased within the past half-decade. He’s got me on that one.

So, without extended blather, I give to you the Jeff Pearlman … who can write:

For the past seven years, I have seen countless hours of my life disappear in front of the TV watching the sport I truly love… Football. There is just something about watching 22 of the world’s top athletes competing at the highest level that sends elation through my mind. One ball, one goal in mind, 11 men working together to complete a nearly impossible task. The immense skill and endurance these men need to simply step on the field is truly remarkable. It is easy to see why so many kids around the world hang posters on their walls and dream of crossing paths with a man of such star status.

I grew up playing the sport as most children in my area did. My childhood memories of the perfect Sunday always included a field full of friends and a sideline packed with family. Oranges at half time and a high-five from my Dad once the final whistle blew certainly made the game a bit more enjoyable. As the years went on, many of my friends stopped playing the sport. They became more focused on sports they cared more about and eventually lost interest all together. In all honesty I followed a similar path and it was not until years later that football came back into my life.

I began watching “soccer” my sophomore year of high school when the new cable provider offered Fox Soccer Channel. One day I decided to watch a game partially because I was interested, partially because there was nothing else on. Lucky for me April 16th of 2003 featured a match between Arsenal and Manchester United, two of England’s top teams. It was that Wednesday that I almost fell in love with a man (some say I actually did) by the name of Thierry Henry. The game ended in a 2-2 draw with both of Arsenals goals coming from Henry. For the remainder of the season I watched every Arsenal game I could fit into my busy 16-year-old schedule. That year marked the beginning of my love for the game the rest of the world knows as football.

Since then my love for Arsenal has flourished and although Henry has since moved to another club, I still support the team from North London.

Its not always easy loving a sport that this country hardly takes seriously. I rarely find someone that enjoys soccer as much as I do, and therefore don’t get the chance to let my mind run free often. It has been exciting to see soccer covered more through the past few years and every time I see a goal on the SportsCenter’s “Top Ten” I pray people will start appreciating the worlds most popular game.

As I see it now, there are three major problems with soccer as viewed by Americans.

1) Lack of Goals

Americans crave excitement and it’s hard to get excited for a 90-minute game that might feature a lone goal. Though a die-hard fan understands the importance of a tie after a ten-month long season it is not difficult to see why the average viewer cannot get into a Champions League game that ends 0-0.

2) Lack of Coverage

Every major sport in America is granted a tremendous amount of TV time that allows the general public to stay updated. Through a basic cable package fans can watch any sport, but not soccer. In the event of misses a game, sport shows are a mere click away and allow full recaps to be a daily routine. Unless a major event occurs in the soccer world, or a fantastic goal is scored, the average American sports fan carries on oblivious to the sport.

3) Lack of Domestic Ability

The most important and difficult problem to solve is that other sports, such as (American) football, baseball and basketball claim the majority of our countries top athletes, leaving few to excel in soccer. Through the years this has affected the quality of American soccer, placing us below countries whose youth only dream of success in the sport America has little interest in. There is little doubt that the MLS has come a long way in recent years, and this is an important step forward. However, I shamefully rarely watch these games. On the chance I do, it is hardly difficult to get frustrated with the lack of creativity and skill; Attributes of the game so commonly seen in the European leagues.

For America to fully embrace soccer it is imperative that these problems be addressed. How do we do that? Since developing domestic talent could be at least a decade long process the only quick fix would be to bring talent in from abroad. David Beckham was a great attempt as it would have been a chance for America to see a player with international level skill. Unfortunately, injuries have kept him from making the impact I hoped he would. Nonetheless, foreign talent is imperative for MLS to become a more competitive league. I can only hope that a more vibrant league will gain the interest of American sports fans. Coverage time will inevitably follow as TV has historically followed the viewer. AND, this will allow the league to continue to develop as teams gain more revenue and can afford to compensate better players. Just like in the MLB, soccer players are attracted to the big bucks and although the Euro has been dominating the Dollar like a hungry fifth grade bully, there is certainly money to be made in US sports, just ask A-Rod.

America has the ability to give this sport a chance and join the rest of the planet in its love for the “worlds sport.” A few more big names may be all we may need to spark the fire needed to take American soccer to the next level…

Only time will tell if America is big enough for two footballs.