Soccer Culture

Why Soccer Is the Future of Sports in America

I remember being a kid in the 1980s.  The sports heroes of mine and my friends played in Major League Baseball, the NBA, and, to a lesser extent since I didn’t grow up in a football town, the NFL.  Soccer was a sport I played as a kid because it was fun.  I wasn’t very good at it so I never thought about playing for a competition team.  Little league soccer was the beginning and end of my knowledge of soccer as a kid.  Unless you count Pelé’s Soccer, the game for the Atari 2600 where little blobs would pass a square back and forth to each other.  But it is not the 1980s anymore.  American kids think of soccer on a much, much bigger scale than we did back then.  And here’s your proof:

Copyright 2014 -

Copyright 2014 –

Meet “Timmy.”  Timmy is my neighbor who lives up the street.  Timmy is between the ages of nine and eleven and LOVES soccer.  He regularly gets together with two other kids his age on our street and watches Real Salt Lake matches.  Being the responsible adult that I am, I often have to watch RSL matches on DVR while I take care of parental duties at home.  What this means is that Timmy and the other kids on street often come knocking on my door before I’m done watching with exclamations about how great the match was.  And they don’t even give me spoiler alerts!

Timmy and his friends are the future of sports fans in the United States.  Unlike my generation back in the 80s, they have actual soccer heroes to look up to.  Timmy is wearing a Cristiano Ronaldo jersey, Real Salt Lake shorts, and was just trying out his new Neymar shoes.  His regular, non-cleated wear-around-town shoes are Lionel Messi’s signature shoes.  At his feet is a replica of the Brazuca, the official match ball for the 2014 World Cup.  The official World Cup match ball has had a different name in every World Cup since 1970. But do you think I knew that?  Not as a kid.  Timmy, on the other hand, is fully aware that Brazuca is the special ball for this World Cup.  Don’t even get me started on how excited Timmy and friends have been for the World Cup.

And soccer as the future of American sports goes deeper than just fandom.  Soccer has a lot of advantages over other sports when it comes to kids’ dreams.  If you want to play in the NBA, you better be at least six-foot-five and be able to jump out of the gym.  I can’t find a link for it, but I remember once at a basketball camp as a teenager that a kid raised his hand and asked then future-NBA Hall of Famer Karl Malone what he needed to do to play in the NBA.  Malone was brutally honest: “Kid,” he said, “you’re never going to play in the NBA.”  He went on to explain how this undersized kid from Sandy, Utah did not have the God-given gifts to play in the NBA. And it really is true.  With the way that the game is today, there are really only 400-500 guys in the world with the right combination of skill and physical gifts to be able to play in the NBA.  I remember Scott Skiles putting on a clinic when I was young in which he said that he spent 10 hours a day in the gym just to prove that anyone, even short guys with no inherent athletic gifts, could play in the NBA if they worked hard enough.  But the kid who wants to spend ten hours in a gym everyday is going to be hard to come by.

The inherent barriers that exist in basketball and, to a certain extent, football, do not exist in soccer. The best player in the world is only 5’7″.  Another of the best players in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo, is 6’1″ and was recently described by RSL Captain and USMNT player Kyle Beckerman as “big” and “powerful.”  Soccer is a sport that anyone can play.  Timmy comes from a great family of average-sized people.  But his dreams of being a soccer player someday?  Very much alive because soccer is a sport that anyone can play.  If his sports heroes were in the NBA, his dreams of playing professionally would end sooner rather than later.  If he really wants to play professionally, he, of course, is going to have to spend every waking moment on the practice field (Neymar was famously recruited to play for Brazilian club Santos at the age of six!).  But at the age of nine or ten, Timmy’s dream is very much alive.

Kids like Timmy are just one of the reasons that soccer is here to stay in this country and that it will continue to be the fastest growing sport in America.  Sorry, non-soccer fans. 

When It Comes to the World Cup, John Oliver Tells It Like It Is

People who know me know that I love Brazil.  They know that I love soccer.  So they’ve asked me, “Are you going to the World Cup?”  And my usual response is, “I did my life wrong.  I’m not going.”  But, at the end of the day, there was a moment about six months ago when I had to decide if I was going to scrape the funds together to go.  I was well aware of the protests that went on in Brazil during the 2013 Confederations Cup, the “rehearsal” event for the World Cup the following year.  I have enough Brazilian friends who have told me that they feel that the average Brazilian gets no benefit from the World Cup coming to the country.  I have seen the embarrassing quotes from legendary Brazilian soccer icon Ronaldo who, in response to protesters’ cries for spending to build better infrastructure instead of better soccer stadiums, said that “you can’t host a World Cup with better hospitals and schools.”  But I love soccer!  So I felt an extreme sense of conflict about whether to go or not.  Despite the spectacle of the World Cup, part of me would also rather go to Brazil when it’s not so full of tourists.  In the end, I decided not to go.  It’s a decision that I partially regret and partially am at peace with.  But HBO’s John Oliver has perfectly captured the conflict that many soccer fans feel as they try to balance their love of the Beautiful Game with the atrocities and corruption rampant in soccer’s governing body, FIFA. Enjoy!


EDIT: After watching the Ronaldo link that shows all of his goals, I have to say that it will be a real shame if Germany’s Miroslav Klose breaks Ronaldo’s all-time goal record.  It would be sort of like Karl Malone breaking Kareem’s all-time points record in the NBA (sorry Jazz fans).  Unless Germany wins the World Cup.  Then it would be like John Elway winning his Super Bowls.  But all of that is another topic entirely.

Soccer Culture: Supporters Chants, Songs, and Anthems

A little over a year ago, Rancid drummer and huge Real Salt Lake supporter Brandon Steineckert forever changed the supporter culture at Real Salt Lake by introducing the world to RSL’s Believe chant, which the club has now adopted as its official anthem.  Soccer chants, songs, and anthems are an integral part of soccer culture around the world.  The songs and chants unify fans and spur the teams’ players on during matches.

This past week, Steineckert did it again when he introduced a new chant for the U.S. Men’s National Team (lovingly referred to in print as the USMNT by supporters and journalists).  I, personally, think that the chant is well done:

The USMNT finally has a unifying chant that is catchy, memorable, and unique. Not surprisingly, there has been a lot of negativity about the chant on the internet (because there’s no sure sign of success like internet haterade . . . well, unless you’re this).  Some complain that the chant sounds too much like “Believe.”  Some complain that it is too long and that casual fans or even the American Outlaws (one of the USMNT’s most ardent supporters groups) will never take the time to memorize it.  Some complain that the new chant is too “top down,” that soccer chants need to grow organically out of the experiences of the  fans at matches, the way that “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was adopted by Liverpool fans at Anfield in the early 1960s.  But this is the 21st Century.  We communicated via Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and many other social media networks.  If the best way to get “We Stand United” out to the people is via social media then so be it.

As for the complaints that the song is too long, those just don’t hold water.  “We Stand United” is just 53 words long and takes about 35 seconds to sing from beginning to end.  It’s a good length.  I think that “Believe,” by comparison, is too short.  The chant is only 28 words long and could really use a bridge.  That being said, it’s a great chant and a great starting point for fans in Salt Lake, who are still at the beginning of building a soccer culture in town.

One of my favorite anthems in world soccer is the Hino do Palmeiras, which is sung by supporters of Sociedade Esportiva Palmeiras, a club in São Paulo, Brazil.  The Hino do Palmeiras is 89 words long and when you get 20,000+ supporters singing it, it is quite a thing to behold.

The anthem, which has been sung since the 1950s (or earlier?), names Palmeiras fans as the “torcida que canta e vibra,” in English “the supporters who sing and shake,” and, boy, do they!  They sing with all their might!  They jump back and forth along the rows of the stadium!  Unity!  Which is what an anthem is supposed to foster.

“We Stand United” is a great place to start for USMNT supporters.  They already have various chants.  But one can only chant “I believe that we will win” for about 20 seconds before it gets old.  Besides, that chant is used all over the place and sometimes to greater effect.  “We Stand United” gives supporters of the USMNT something to call their own that they can take to Brazil, that they can use to spur the team on to victory, and that they can use for many years to come.  Who knows?  In 60 years USMNT supporters might sound as good as Palmeiras fans.