Please, America, don’t get into soccer

Americans are really good at four things: ingenuity, marketing, making chicken wings, and inventing their own sports. The first three, of course, are all foundational pillars of American sporting glory; Nothing happens without wings.

So, as the U.S. prepares to face the Netherlands on Saturday, its first appearance in the World Cup’s knockout round, I feel compelled to offer a plea: Please, for the love of all that is holy in you, please America, don’t go to soccer.

While covering the World Cup in Doha, I watched the US Men’s National Team, or USMNT as it is unforgivably referred to, play in a couple of matches. And I must say that I am quite concerned. Don’t get me wrong: he has been impressive on the pitch and deserves to be qualified by his group. They beat a good England side to a 0-0 draw. They then played their socks off to win a highly charged encounter with Iran.

But this is exactly what worries me. What if soccer takes off properly in America, as it has threatened for decades?

The US fans I met in Doha are enthusiastic and well-intentioned. He has also developed a couple of chants, bless him. There is “USA” to the rhythm of the great Icelandic “hu” clap. and “It’s Called Soccer” to the familiar tune “Let’s Go Pony”. (I think the latter chant is a regrettable attempt at transatlantic banter.)

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It’s painfully clear that American men’s soccer culture is nowhere near ready for primetime. This is a country that still refers to its national team as a “program,” which isn’t even close to right.

Americans are often seen chatting with American fans on public transport in Doha. Many have excitedly told me that soccer is about to explode in the US, that the next World Cup will be held there (along with Canada and Mexico) and that Lionel Messi is set to join MLS side Inter Miami in his twilight years.

Last week, a soccer-loving American congressman, who shall remain nameless, confidently told me over lunch that Serbia was a dark horse to win the tournament. Reader, they are not.

So far, outside of Hispanic culture, soccer has remained a largely upper-middle-class pursuit in America, rarely played on college campuses and loved by sardonic hipsters, giving it a mild countercultural tinge. Viewing figures for “EPL” (English Premier League) matches in the US are relatively low – less than 1 million per game.

The tragedy of soccer taking off in the US is that it flattens and destroys one of America’s best things: its magnificent sports culture. Even worse, you’ll probably end up getting really good at it.

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As a Brit, I love American sports culture because of how absurd and uniquely American it is. I love how you call your national baseball championship the World Series with a straight face. I love that people fly 2,000 miles to watch their local college play in a university basketball game. I love eight of the ten biggest sports stadiums whole world Dedicated to amateur college football. I adore language and theory: Big House, March Madness, Red River Showdown.

A product of a continental culture that has little or no interest in how things are done in the rest of the world is so extraordinary. It’s the very ambiguity of it all, its pure, unrefined, unbiased, Americanness that makes it so special. These sports were invented along with the American imagination, and they sit at the heart of its self-concept.

Don’t spoil it by obsessing over the same sport as everyone else. I mean, by all means show matches, have your own league, accept the beautiful game. The US women’s team has had great success. But please don’t let the all-conquering soccer dominance bring American sports culture to heel.

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There is no sure way to end American greatness. American sports are about winning: there is no concept of a tie. But bring soccer’s 0-0 draw into your life and you might as well hand China the keys to Taiwan right now.

Don’t get me wrong, I love soccer. I love the World Cup and the exotic clash of nations and cultures it fosters. I hope we have a global game where any child in the world can participate by pinning up a Cristiano Ronaldo poster and kicking a ball around the front yard.

But soccer has conquered enough worlds and it already has a lot of money. The big money-grabbing octopus that is FIFA won’t stop though. It wants to dominate America as India ditches its cricket bats and Australia switches from the oval ball to the hammer. It continues to give the US World Cup tournaments. Premier League teams continue to turn Stateside for their lucrative pre-season tours.

Soccer keeps knocking on the door in the hope that one day it can steal America’s untold sporting wealth. Don’t let it go. I don’t say this out of snobbery or disdain, but out of love for what makes America different. you guys



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