It’s here, finally.
Months of worry about your team’s star players moving to a rival team, of agonizing over every last second of the past season, of wondering whether one more pass completed or penalty called would have won your team one more game, are over.
With the league’s finances in order and the players in (relative) agreement with team owners, we’re almost ready to start the new season.
Football is back!
Oh, you thought I was talking about the National Football League. Well, no, not exactly. I mean it is someone’s national football league, just not, you know, the NFL.
I’m talking about the English Premier League, home of some of the world’s best soccer.
That’s right. I think it’s nice and all that the NFL owners and players union got their differences settled and are back to getting ready for the season. Wonderful. But right now I’m thinking about the opening day of the EPL on Aug. 13. I’m thinking about Manchester, not Minnesota; Tottenham, not Tampa Bay.
You should probably start thinking about the EPL, too, because the next British invasion is not going to be slinging guitars, but rather, kicking a soccer ball.
Ready or not, soccer is poised to take hockey’s place at the table as one of the Big Four sports in the United States.
I know, I know. You’ve heard all of that before. But it’s statistically true.
In a 2007 story about superstar goal-scorer David Beckham’s move to the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer, the premier division of American soccer, the BBC drops some interesting statistics regarding soccer in America. For example, according to the article, more people in the United States watched the 2006 World Cup final than any one game of the 2005 World Series. World Cup ratings in the United States rose another 41 percent for the 2010 event.
Already, the EPL is outdrawing the MLS for American soccer viewers and, with Americans owning five EPL clubs (including two of the most heavily followed clubs worldwide, Manchester United and Arsenal), there is more incentive for those owners to expand the market and create more fans across the Atlantic.
But don’t feel too sorry for the MLS; there are plenty of soccer fans to go around.
In another article, published this year, it states that the average attendance for MLS in 2010 increased 4 percent from 2009 to 16,675 fans, while the average attendance for the National Hockey League, America’s fourth-most popular pro sports league, fell 3 percent to a shade over 17,000 fans.
This is a remarkable rise in popularity. The MLS has yet to celebrate its 20th year in existence —- it is one of the youngest “premier leagues” in the world — while the NHL has been around since World War I.
What we’re seeing is that American fans love their local MLS squad but they also finding European teams, mostly English teams, to love as well. Who says you can’t be both a Houston Dynamo fan and a Tottenham Hotspur fan?
In addition, soccer is one of the most popular youth sports in the United States and growing every year. Combine this with the recent revelations regarding concussion injuries in American football —- one doctor recently said that the ideal amount of time children should spend playing American football is zero —- then you’ll start to see an even larger rise in soccer participation.
And, regardless of what Jim Gazzolo said in his misinformed and misogynistic July 17 American Press column (timed to drop a huge deuce on the good feelings surrounding the US’ first appearance in a Women’s World Cup final since 1999), women’s soccer is also growing as a sport.
In his column, Gazzolo claims, without the benefit of things like, you know, evidence, that “the soccer movement gained little momentum (from the US’s 1999 Women’s World Cup title) long-term” and that “no successful major women’s league followed.”
Uh, sure. According to the US Youth Soccer organization, female participation in youth soccer has grown from 100,000 players 30 years ago to 3 million players today. In addition, the final of the 2011 Women’s World Cup between the US and Japan brought ESPN its highest-ever ratings for a soccer match with over 13 million viewers. The 2011 final was the sixth most-viewed soccer match ever in the United States.
The most-viewed soccer match ever? That 1999 women’s final Mr. Gazzolo complained so much about.
In fact, with the explosion of sports options on digital cable and the Internet, just about the only place you can’t get soccer coverage is in the shrinking pages of the daily newspaper, which is, nowadays, populated by grumpy old cranks more interested in the old days than these newfangled sports they don’t understand.
As far as successful women’s major league soccer goes…they’re getting there. The Women’s Professional Soccer league is young (established in 2007) and is struggling to gain a foothold in the vast marketplace of American sports. The league is dealing with some growing pains, and, like the MLS and the Women’s National Basketball Association, it will need years to establish itself and begin generating more widespread interest. This past Women’s World Cup could provide another small boost toward legitimacy.
But Gazzolo implores us to “forget the solid viewing numbers,” before bringing out the hoariest of all chestnuts that soccer is “boring.”
He must not have seen the United States men’s team gripping 1-0 stoppage-time win over Algeria at the 2010 World Cup. In that game (which, like the 1999 women’s final, was tied at 0-0 after 90 minutes), the United States, on the verge of elimination, had several chances to score but could not shake the Algerian defense and a controversial offsides call. It was maybe the least boring 0-0 match in Cup history.
Finally in the 91st minute, the first of four minutes of stoppage time, Landon Donovan’s rebound goal saved the Americans’ Cup dreams and set off celebrations around the country.
Must have missed Abby Wambach’s game-winning goal against Brazil, too.
But that’s okay. He’ll have plenty of time to see another exciting, heart-stopping moment in soccer history. There are lots of them to come.
Because the soccer revolution isn’t just coming. It’s already here to stay.
Brandon Shoumaker is a graduate of McNeese State University and has covered sports for more than seven years for various publications. Coaches or parents with story tips may contact Brandon at email@example.com or send him a message on Twitter (@bshoumaker).