Since most of you are continuing to ignore soccer, I feel a special responsibility to keep you updated on how soccer is shaping up here in the United States. You can call me a guru if you like, but I prefer prophet. So please, listen up, because you’ll be linking to this post for years to come.
I’ve been very frank about the fact that soccer in the United States will never compete in popularity with the NFL, MLB, and NBA until the U.S. National team is able to make it to the semi-finals of a World Cup. A strong World Cup showing will increase interest and transfer over to interest in the MLS. This trend, however, cannot go the either way. Even if the MLS (Major League Soccer) continues to sign popular stars at the end of their careers like David Beckham, their gains will still be relatively small for the popularity of the sport as a whole here in the States. Sure, Beckham is fun to watch, but the guy is on his way out.
In fact, the MLS needs to worry about possibly becoming a retirement league as more of these soccer superstars see the MLS as a lower level league that will still allow them to compete in a way that will preserve their legendary status even as they play with lower talent. Imagine if Emmitt Smith hadn’t signed with the Cardinals for those last two years and instead played in the CFL. He might have been able to tear it up for another year or two and spared himself some pity and embarrassment. The only difference is that the MLS receives much more attention and support than the CFL ever could.
But back to the main point: U.S. soccer needs a strong showing in the World Cup if it ever wants to be seen as a major sport here in the United States. Right now, that doesn’t exactly look likely for the next World Cup in 2010. But then again, it doesn’t exactly look like it’s impossible either. We are currently seeing a continuing number of MLS soccer players making the move over teams in the various European leagues where the level of talent is much higher. The latest move was Eddie Johnson from the KC Wizards who signed with Fulham which is in the English Premier League, with news that Brad Guzan of Chivas USA might not be far behind, although a strange Premier League rule kept him from signing this month with Glaslow Celtic. While this is bad for the MLS in that it is losing its strong young talent, this is good for the national team which Johnson and Guzan play for. As you can imagine, playing with better talent only makes you better, and the national team needs better talent if its going to make it into the bracket next Cup.
So cheer up, soccer fans. Your time might be coming in the next 6 or 10 years. Until then, you’ll just have to endure watching the European teams steal all the home grown talent and the MLS picking up their leftovers. Hope you can wait!