But every Cup year, it seems, a favorite activity resurfaces--explaining America's lack of interest in soccer. There are a few common answers, and I'll try to give some of them here:
1) America is ADD. They can't take the sort of concentration needed for watching soccer.
Interestingly enough, though, this objection conflicts with the next:
2) Soccer doesn't have enough real action to keep the attention of an average American. [This also goes under the name of "not enough scoring"]
If soccer truly doesn't have enough action to keep our attention, then it should fit in perfectly with the ADD tendencies we have of letting our concentration shift from the game to something else, then to another thing, and then after awhile, back to the game, where we'll find that likely nothing has changed.
3) Americans don't like watching sports that their country isn't good at. Or, to put a finer point on it, Americans don't like watching a sport that other, smaller, Third World countries are better at than America is.
Are you saying that America is xenophobic and nationalistic to the point of hollow jingoism? O, well then, I agree. And for a good example of this genuinely silly attitude toward sport, check out Joe Malchow: "I think there are some very basic explanations, like the fact that soccer is necessarily an international sport, which makes very much sense for Europe. But the United States, vasty in its land and in its people, and separated by a sea, can sustain its three chief sports by competing within itself. This quantity and quality of competition—-in which the rest of the world doesn’t seem to want to take part anyway, and that’s just fine—-satisfies." Nevermind the fact that Great Britain has its own very successful Premiership league, or Japan its own baseball league, or even that both baseball and basketball in America can no longer really be called "satisfied" by "competing within itself," given that they are now and increasingly will be dominated by non-American players. No! American sports are not globalized, and sports in other countries are never localized! That would violate our national character!
Joe also points to a different post, which is actually worse than his own commentary, and which states,
Goals are indeed a rare commodity in soccer, so much so that soccer is, essentially, a zero sum game. The “pie” of goals not only is meager, it never grows. So it is fought over with an intensity that is almost never found in American sports. This isn’t boring, but it is deeply unsatisfying to Americans.This is stupid, because it mischaracterizes soccer as a zero-sum game when it is nothing of the sort. It is a game of incrementalist strategy, and it is America's inability to think in the terms of incrementalist strategy—a character trait which I find to be often a deficiency and only sometimes a benefit—that helps kill soccer's popularity in America. Soccer is Risk, and America wants to play Sorry! Soccer isn't sisyphean, it's martial, but unfortunately, even that metaphor doesn't work, since most Americans think of war less tactically than heroically, less about field maps and broad strategies than about monument-ready moments of glory and triumph.
My theory is that Americans have neither the belief system nor the temperment for such a sisyphean sport as soccer. We are a society of doers, achievers, and builders. Our country is dynamic, constantly growing, and becoming ever bigger, richer, and stronger. We do not subscribe to a “zero sum” mentality. We do not labor for the sake of laboring. And we like our sports teams to score. Scoring is a tangible accomplishment that can be identified, quantified, tabulated, compared, analyzed, and, above all else, increased.
Americans don't like soccer because the victories on the field--at the end of the game or in it--are subtle and not really about individuals. They're small, and they don't coalesce very quickly or regularly. ESPN's slogan for the World Cup is "One game changes everything." I'm not even sure I'd go that far in my claims about the dynamics of soccer, but I would bet that Americans think even that claim is too dull--"One game changes everything? What about one swing, one pass, one shot? That's what sports are about!"
What vulgar puerility.
Secondarily, I think most Americans cannot understand the division which takes place in most fans between the watching of the game and the playing of it. As this blogger that Joe quotes from says, "We do not labor for the sake of laboring." Soccer players don't labor for the sake of laboring; that's a totally ludicrous claim and shows an absolute lack of experience playing. Rather, what this illustrates is the automatic identification with the players of a game that Americans do reflexively and that American sports depends upon for their popularity. You are "in the game" as a fan of American sport, but I don't think you are as a soccer fan. You can totally watch a game literally as a work of art, truly disinterested in whether the ball goes in the net or not.
The best game of the tournament so far was the Argentina/Mexico game--not because of the high drama of going into extra time or anything of that sort, but because it was played in a beautiful way--openly, with a controlled yet frenetic quality, featuring outrageous feats of ball handling and constant, perpetual dashes and runs--the Latin American way, in other words. If the game had been 8-7, it couldn't have been any better--the goals didn't matter, except for the fact that each one was utterly, unbelievably gorgeous in its execution.
But that's the way the spectator feels--it doesn't matter what the score is, as long as the ball moves around beautifully. For the players, beauty is only a means to an end. The score is what matters for them. The fans simply chose to do, to react, to observe, with different criteria in mind, and that, in my mind, is why Americans can't appreciate soccer--because they can't chose to have criteria of beauty in mind other than the beauty of the bottom line. Again, vulgar puerility.