This week on “Turning the Page” I want to make an observation that I had when watching the U.S. Mens’ Soccer team hammer Mexico, 2-0, to qualify for its seventh consecutive World Cup this past week. It’s something I had been expecting for a while, but I think it’s time to finally say it. America has turned the corner on soccer. We’re becoming a soccer country.
Some of the lag when it came to accepting “the beautiful game” has been attritbuted to the fact that baseball, basketball and football tend to rule youth participation in this country. However, after watching USMNT play in front of a sold-out crowd in Columbus, Ohio, this past week, it’s clear soccer is trending upward.
The first “soccer town” popping up was a crucial step in this transformation of American sports. Now, as far as I can tell, there are at least two of them, with a possibility of expansion.
Columbus has become a time-honored tradition for U.S.-Mexico soccer matches, with the U.S. winning 2-0 about 96 percent of the times, and the city has really taken to the team and the sport in general.
The seocnd “soccer town” is definitely Seattle, and this is not even a discussion. For those of you who may have caught a glimpse of Clint Dempsey’s debut match, the Sounders are the big dogs in the highly populated Northwest city. That’s what happened when the NBA ripped the Sonics away. People in the Northwest found something else to do, and like it or not, Seattle is often a city that sets trends for the rest of the country. Whether it be musically, technologically or caffeine-related matters, Seattle has a pretty formidable record here.
The other city which has the potential to be No. 3 on this list to have made the jump to the world’s most important sport is Kansas City. In the past five or six years — make it 10 — the Royals and the Chiefs have been... well, the Royals and the Chiefs, which has led Midwest residents to take in a Sporting KC game now and then. Now, whenever I go to KC, I notice that it’s almost equal as far as merchandise showcasing is concerned. Give it another five years of MLB and NFL mediocrity, and Sporting KC could be the big boys in town.
The most important factor involved in this development has been the drastically different level of quality that exists now in the MLS compared to just five years ago. You have one man to thank for that — David Beckham. Regardless of the stunt it may have been seen as at the time, Beckham has brought recognition to the league, a league where some of America’s, Mexico’s and several other countries’ best players make their living.
When the World Cup comes around in next summer, and the U.S. makes a serious run at the Cup, that will be America’s final turning point.