By Kristian Dyer
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Chances are you will encounter plenty of soccer fans ahead of the United States’ match against Ghana on Monday in the opening round of the World Cup.
They likely will fill the subways and streets and offices, wearing U.S. jerseys and eagerly talking up the sport. There’s a strong possibility then can dissect the Starting XI and talk the merits of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones in the center of the midfield. They might even be able to talk about head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s shift to a diamond midfield. Perhaps they played the game in high school and college. They will bleed red, white and blue on Monday night.
But guess what? They’re not real soccer fans. Not if they ignore the sport in their own backyard.
Other major U.S. sports don’t have an equivalent to this odd phenomenon where people support a national club in droves but pay no attention to their local teams. In Olympic hockey, Americans cheer for the national team to go for the gold, and then they have an NHL team that they also follow and call themselves a fan of, even if passively. The Dream Team gets the nation cheering every four summers in the Olympics, but there isn’t a fan of that team who doesn’t also have an NBA franchise that they also follow.
Yet many Americans on Monday night will cheer for Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, the aforementioned Bradley and young stars such as Graham Zusi and Jozy Altidore, yet they will completely ignore the fact that those crucial parts of this World Cup team all came up through MLS. Instead, they will support a European or a South American team that “they fell in love with” from across the globe. Chances are, they’ve never been to Liverpool, Manchester, Barcelona, Madrid or Munich and yet they passionately call themselves a fan of the sport. Saturday mornings are planned around watching these matches from their sofa, or trekking to a sports bar to crane their neck and watch on cable or satellite.
But a 20-minute ride on the PATH or LIRR to see live soccer? Not worth it.
Fans near New York City will paint their faces red, white and blue tonight, but will never have gone to Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., just a few miles away. They haven’t checked out the New York Cosmos schedule, even though they won the NASL championship (essentially the second division) last year. And to many, New York City FC is just a possible nuisance to the field at Yankee Stadium.
They will complain that the product is no good, but they’ve never watched a match or at least not recently and seen how MLS has grown into arguably a top-10 league in the world, or how the NASL has exciting young talent. It’s a retirement league, they say of MLS, ignoring that the spine of the United States team was developed or currently plays in the league. There is no star power, again ignoring that MLS is one of the top teams in the world in sending players to this summer’s World Cup.
By any measure, these Eurosnobs and their arguments don’t add up. They cheer for the biggest stars in the league to beat Ghana, but conveniently forget the league for a club they’ve likely never seen play in person.
Those fans are glory hunters, wishing instead to associate with a European powerhouse overseas and ignoring a growing product in their own backyard.
It doesn’t make sense.
No MLS club can match the glory of Chelsea, Liverpool, either of the Manchester clubs, Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich. Few teams in the world can. If that excuse held water, then sides like Sunderland in England or Sevilla in Spain would never draw top-shelf crowds. Yet even though those teams and hundreds like them can’t compete with the big powerhouses and their oligarch owners, fans shown up in droves nonetheless.
Why? Because they support the local team.
It’s just a fact that the tens of thousands of fans who will wave American flags and wear Dempsey and Bradley jerseys to bars and watch parties across the Tri-State area and yet ignore soccer at the grassroots level in this country aren’t true American soccer fans. They ignore the beauty of the game in their own backyard and choose to follow and support the Miami Heats of the soccer world.
The time is now for them to turn not just their eyes, but also their feet, to Red Bull Arena to watch World Cup stars such as Tim Cahill and Roy Miller along with the legendary Thierry Henry. Perhaps check out the reasonably priced tickets for the Cosmos at Shuart Stadum as they reboot their gloried and storied history. Or peruse the plans for New York City FC, set to enter MLS next year.
Anything short isn’t being a real American soccer fan.
Actually, it isn’t being a fan at all.
Kristian R. Dyer covers the NFL and soccer for Metro New York as well as BigAppleSoccer.com. Want soccer tweets? He can be followed @KDyerSoccer.
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