Soccer vs. Baseball

When I grew up I played a little bit of soccer. This was a long time ago and I was not particularly talented. Our team was better than most in the Chicago area because two German-born children of the coach of the long-defunct Chicago Sting also played alongside us and clearly led the team. I’m sure as actual German soccer players 30+ years ago they must have thought our soccer skills were absolutely pathetic, in contrast with European standards of the day.

There have long been debates on the (low) popularity of soccer in the United States, along with hand-wringing about the cause and various opinions on all sides. I haven’t paid too much attention to the debate but I was on vacation in Italy when the US team tied Italy in 2007 and I did feel good at the time (it was quite a shock to the locals, I’ll tell you).

Over the years soccer has grown as a youth sport and also as a competitive sport. The Chicago Fire soccer team actually is able to draw a decent crowd. In Chicago we have a vast foreign born population and whenever there is an important match on overseas our local bars pick up the games on satellite and are packed full of hard drinkers in bar wear for their favorite team.

The US beat Spain recently in a huge upset that did get some press. To say the team from Spain was favored is to vastly understate the scale of the upset; some compared it to the US defeat of the USSR in 1980 in ice hockey.

Today the US team took a 2-0 lead on another hugely favored team, the Brazilians, and I was outdoors having lunch watching the game out of the corner of my eye in a new bar / restaurant (called Brownstone, it was excellent) on the north side of Chicago. As the US team took a lead many passing pedestrians stopped to check the score and obviously noted what seemed to be another historic upset (at the time). There were local Brazilians in team colors, too, but also a large number of fans rooting for Team USA. Brazil was eventually able to catch up and won 3-2 which was a disappointment but the fans (including me) seemed to be electrified by the game and were shouting and paying close attention with every play.

The interesting part of this is what was going on in that same bar at the exact same time – the inter-Chicago baseball rivalry between the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox. That 3 game series was tied 1-1 and the last 2 games had gone down to the wire, so there was a high expectation that this series deciding game would be a good one. It turned out not to be a close game, as the White Sox beat the Cubs 6-0, but I can tell you that the US vs. Brazil soccer game really held the crowd much better than the baseball game. While the photo isn’t that great, everyone in the foreground (and people outside) were watching the soccer game while the rest of the bar was watching the baseball game – and the sound was turned to the soccer game, to boot.

Maybe it isn’t soccer’s time yet in America, but it seems to be getting closer. And baseball better pick up its game…

Cross posted at LITGM

15 thoughts on “Soccer vs. Baseball”

  1. I’ve always thought that a reason soccer struggles at the professional level here is simply that it is still a minor league sport (relative to the sport as a whole), and while there is a market for that kind of thing it is much smaller. Americans are rather snobbish about sports, and prefer to watch the best. As long as the best American players have to go to Europe professionally, soccer will never really take off as a spectator sport in the US.

    I picked up soccer recreationally after college, and have been watching the World Cup for 20+ years. I enjoy the game tremendously, but I’ve never been able to follow the European leagues (timing/access) and it is just hard to care that much about the American leagues because they are so obviously playing at a “high-minors” level. I’ll watch games on occasion, but never with any real rooting interest. If soccer ever reaches the stage where you can watch truely big league soccer live on a US-standard sports schedule it would probably move up to #3 or 4 on my sports-watching cycle (after baseball and the NFL, about on par with NCAA basketball).

  2. big league soccer live on a US-standard sports schedule=stopping the game every three minutes for advertising.

  3. I took my wife out to lunch at a Brazilian restaurant yesterday. Didn’t even realize the game was on, until I heard the entire wait staff cheer and scream out “BRASIL!” As soon as they did, I knew exactly what the game was.

    There was passing interest from much of the crowd, but only a couple people actively watching the game. Most of us were too busy eating. It was a damn good restaurant.

  4. It seems every country needs a sport that is unspeakable slow and boring, like soccer. Americans don’t take to it because they already have baseball. Leave it to the Brits to need two, soccer and cricket.

  5. To paraphrase George Will, “soccer has none of the things that Americans have an affinity with that are essential parts of American football; vilence interspersed with committee meetings!”

  6. To paraphrase George Will, “soccer has none of the things that Americans have an affinity with that are essential parts of American football; violence interspersed with committee meetings!”

  7. @CoachKaz: You [George Will, actually] forgot to mention long, drawn-out lawsuits (i.e. instant-replay challenges).

  8. Considering that lacrosse – a North American-originated sport at least as old and storied as soccer, yet with much faster action, which you’d think American sports fans would eat right up – has failed to make much of a dent in the U.S. sports marketplace (as a certain late, unlamented team in your neck of the woods found out the hard way), it seems to me soccer’s biggest problem isn’t that it’s a bad sport, but that it’s trying to compete in a saturated U.S. sports marketplace where the biggest sports and leagues are pretty well entrenched at the top.

    When a country like Brazil wins the World Cup they celebrate for at least the rest of the year. If Team USA were ever to win it, the accomplishment would probably be forgotten by the time American football season starts, if not sooner.

  9. Joshua – “If Team USA were ever to win it, the accomplishment would probably be forgotten by the time American football season starts, if not sooner.” True. And if the world cup was during football season nobody would watch it at all.

  10. I am kind of glad that soccer is picking up because it gives me something to talk (and text) about with my nieces and nephews. They like the NBA, NASCAR and Soccer. Also NCAA March Madness. A bit of football (sometimes), and hardly any baseball or hockey.

    You’ve got to roll with the changes…

  11. Also funny that people like that photo, I thought it was one of my worst and was a bit sheepish even putting it up there, but that once again shows what the heck I know :)

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