EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 16, 2013

Pro soccer will never catch on big with American sports fans

Dave Dyer
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Quietly, professional soccer has been taking a blow in the last month. And deservedly so in my opinion.

While the Boston Bruins have been dominating the headlines with their remarkable run, and the Red Sox are enjoying a surprising start to the season, the New England Revolution has played some excellent soccer.

After last weekend, the Revs were much improved over a year ago and, with a couple of big wins under their belt, were a respectable 5-4-5.

But who has noticed? Hardly anyone as far as I can tell, and it’s understandable. Despite what people have been saying for over a decade, pro soccer will — for at least two reasons — never catch on throughout the country.

The first and maybe biggest problem is the lack of action, which was underlined for me once again in a recent Revolution-D.C. United game in Foxboro.

It wasn’t just that the game ended in a 0-0 tie. It was the total lack of action that struck me.

The Revolution goalie had to make just one save the entire game (and that came from 35 yards out!) while the United goalie made a whopping four stops. Moreover, neither team managed more than nine shots in the direction of goal.

I’ll admit that the players are skilled and there’s some fine passing, but it’s almost always in the midfield. Unless games start seeing more goals, or at least attempted goals, it’s not going to catch on.

For better or worse, most Americans like intense action and professional soccer isn’t providing that.

The other problem is that so many of the players are unknowns and hard to attach to. Many come from foreign countries in which we don’t know their background and have difficult names to pronounce and even the veterans are hard to identify with.

Occasionally, there will be a Clint Dempsey or two, and David Beckham certainly popularized the MSL for awhile, but they’re the exceptions.

There’s a reason why you don’t see many pro soccer players promoting products.

With no great name identification, it’s tough to have much of a conversation about pro soccer, which further limits its potential for growth in this country. For those who listen to sports radio, how often, if ever, do callers bring up the Revolution?

Yes, millions of youngsters play soccer every year, and I’m all for that, because it’s great exercise and simple to understand. But most of them fade away from the sport at some point partly because there are few recognizable pro players to identify with or even talk about.

There are a few pockets around the country where pro soccer has caught on, like in St. Louis and Seattle, but they’ve always been big soccer areas. For the most part, pro soccer is not catching on and I doubt it ever will.

In fact, with the growing popularity of flag football among youngsters, I’m wondering if soccer in this country might even take a step back in the other direction in years to come.

Good for baseball?

While I admit that I’m not a huge major league baseball fan (football, basketball and hockey are my sports to watch), I’m getting a kick out of the current major league baseball season.

It’s satisfying to see the Boston Red Sox do much better this year, of course, particularly with more likeable players, and it’s equally impressive that the Yankees have been so competitive with a bunch of no-names filling in for all their injured superstars.

But what’s really been enjoyable has been the decline of four teams expected to vie for a world championship — the Angels, Blue Jays, Dodgers and Nationals.

All four stocked their team with high-priced “stars” to put them over the top and nearly none of them have delivered. The Blue Jays in particular loaded up with Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets and Josh Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle from the Marlins, but they’ve been a huge disappointment.

The Angels already had a huge pay roll and then they added Josh Hamilton who, at last check, had lost power and was hitting .221. He’s been as big a flop if not bigger than Albert Pujols was last year.

There’s some kind of “it serves you right” mentality about this thinking, but it’s just refreshing to see the big spenders struggle.

And it’s probably good not only for the smaller markets but for the game itself.