“You know, when we go out, we get recognized like guys on the Seahawks.”
– Seattle Sounders Forward, Eddie Johnson
In my California neighborhood, people like sports just fine but nobody gives two spits about the Los Angeles Galaxy or MLS. In fact the neighborhood echoes with shouts of support during many sporting events. But on Galaxy game days, it’s only me, yap dogs, and those damn meddling kids making any noise.
It’s an odd situation since I live just 15 minutes from the home of the 2-time defending league champs and 10 minutes from two of its biggest stars: Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez. Furthermore, my community is very active and every child who’s not a chump plays AYSO at some point. On weekends, you can’t go to a grocery store or pizza joint without tripping over kids in uniform. Yet somehow, none of it translates into even mild support for the home team.
To be fair, it’s not just my neighborhood that doesn’t give two spits about the LA Galaxy. Nobody I personally know or have met outside The StubHub Center anywhere in Los Angeles follows the Galaxy (Their punch line roommates Chivas USA, fare no better). The Galaxy still manage to put asses in the seats for most matches, but the numbers should be much better. Sunny weekend sellouts remain an exception to the rule.
So why is the league champion relegated to obscurity in its own city? Is this level of massive indifference endemic to the entire league?
League Commissioner Don Garber has engineered a slick and smart strategy to grow Major League Soccer: win-over active soccer fans and then let them do the heavy lifting of converting casual fans to the league. And so far, it’s working. Attendance, TV deals, expansion, soccer-specific stadiums, player salaries, big names, and overall quality of competition have all marked the significant growth of the league and, by default, the sport in the U.S.
But if the goal is national success on par with football, basketball, and baseball, then Garber will need to drift a bit from the purer faith. By “preaching to the choir” of established soccer fans, he essentially built the wall he’ll need to smash, and the collision is fast approaching. Garber recently proclaimed, “By 2022, we want to be one of the top soccer leagues in the world.” It can happen, but the same old fans won’t get us there; we’ll need converts, and that means compromise.
The conversion of American soccer haters is a huge task. And really, that’s what we’re talking about here, “haters” because there’s scant middle ground when it comes to soccer in this country. More than just peer pressure or exposure, the great conversion will require a cultural paradigm shift…means it’s real hard. Ask most red-blooded sports fans in this country and they’ll tell you…soccer is un-American. That hurts.
So how do you fix it? How do you kick hockey out of the number 4 slot and build rabid new soccer fans outside of Seattle?…I’ve got a tight proposal: pinpoint what Americans dislike so much about soccer and then gently massage the domestic brand into alignment with American tastes. What follows is a brief list of those hated features. It’s not comprehensive, but it’s a real smart start…
The best way to grow a sport is to give it personality. For Americans that means grit, swagger, and a chip on your shoulder. Remember the Alamo!
Our difficulties on this score start at the very top. America’s greatest player ever, Landon Donovan doesn’t show those qualities often enough for most fans’ liking.
As the face of the sport in America, we expect superhuman production from Donovan every time he’s on the pitch. That’s why his motivational lapses are so frustrating to fans, especially newcomers to the sport. Some call it a refreshing level of balance in his life – a firm grip on what really matters. That sucks. I don’t have his name on the back of my jersey for his karmic outlook on life – goals and assists will do just fine, thanks. And how ‘bout some fire in those cockles, my man?! As a star on the national team, Donovan has the perfect opportunity to spread the gospel of American soccer to Americans. But he must show the fire on the field and when addressing the media.
Cookie-cutter interactions like “great” and “respect” and “give them credit,” all fall flat with prospective fans. Praising the other team is boring and generally phony. These guys beat the heck out of each other for an hour-and-a-half and use every racial slur and mom insult in the book.
If you want to get on ESPN…If you want to knock mindless New York Jets coverage down a notch…then let’s hear it, with feeling this time… “We will annihilate Mexico with extreme prejudice the same way we do anyone crazy enough to stand in our way! You wanna throw batteries and urine at me when I take corner kicks? I’ve had Corona, amigo, your urine don’t scare me none. And while your batteries rain down on my head, I know you’ll be weeping in the dark that night while I breathe fire in the streets! BRING IT ON, THREE COLORS!!!” That’s how you win over American fans! That’s also a good way to get yourself killed. Though a martyr might be exactly what our little league needs.
I stopped for takeout on my way to the Galaxy’s May tilt with the Seattle Sounders. My girlfriend and I were head-to-toe in officially licensed, washed and pressed Galaxy gear – just bristling with team spirit. Our spirit wilted however, when the waitress expressed her confusion over our matching Herbalife shirts. That’s when it hit me…“Los Angeles” doesn’t appear anywhere on the jersey, and “Galaxy” is in tiny letters inside the cartoonish little crest. Not exactly a “shout out” or a fist-pumping show of pride for a team with no foothold in its own city. The waitress had no idea that Herbalife sponsored the Galaxy or that there was a game that day or…that she forgot my extra coleslaw, damnit.
Americans like jerseys that represent their city and their team, not sponsors of the team. It’s a strange contradiction, I know, for a country that basically invented crass commercialism. T-shirts, however, are fair game for anything: logos, slogans, mascots – knock yourself out, but not on the team jersey…Not in bold block letters across the chest of the team jersey. You’re assuming that people will recognize the team by its sponsor, but in this country, they won’t.
Economics, you say?…Choke on your economics. We’ll pay for the right gear, but not a $120 jersey that features herbal supplements or airlines or something called “Bimbo” whatever the hell that is.
I was watching a soccer game at a family gathering when an awesome goal unfolded in rapid-fire hi-definition. Even the Lakers, Dodgers, and Raiders fans in attendance got a thrilling jolt of energy. And then the commentary… “Oh, my, dear, what a cheeky little bit of skill that was!”…
The entire room sagged.
Someone said, “What the hell did he say?”
And that was it, everyone filed out looking for drink refills and, in the case of the Raiders fans, a tree to scratch their backs against. I was tempted to leave with them. “Cheeky skill”? Is this a drag queen show or a sporting event?
A “Half chance”… A “pitch” … A “Kit” … “Picking up a nick” … “Posing some questions of the defense” ? I can see how this language is fitting when teams like the Cottagers and the Toffees go to battle or to afternoon tea for that matter, but it ain’t gonna cut it with a testosterone-soaked American crowd. And for the love god, stop calling it “The Beautiful Game”; it sounds like a Julia Roberts movie!
Credit to Latin announcers for getting it right: boastful and unapologetically biased, half drunk, and swelling with machismo. These guys are fans not aristocratic dandies. Fun, no?… ¡Sí!
Every team in every sport has some mechanism to “shorten” the game and preserve a lead, but soccer is unique in a way that Americans, including American soccer fans, will never accept: the comically fake injury.
It goes something like this…
- A blazing run down the field…
- A defender closes ground…
- The striker leaps into the air untouched…
- Head thrown back…Mouth contorted…
- Arms clawing to the heavens for mercy…
- Grab the knee or head with one hand and beg for help with the other…
- Check your hands for blood (very important)…
- Pound the grass with a delicately-balled fist…
- Perform the Rosary while they cart you off the field…
- Spring to life just outside the white line and demand to re-enter the game.
Moronic. Stop it sooner than later, like in the next 15 minutes. I’m a soccer fan, but I refuse to accept this nonsense as “part of the game”. Machetes would be part of the game too if you allowed them. Just do away with it. I know this would doom Italy to totally revamp their World Cup strategy, but so be it. Let the Mammonis play the game on their damn feet for once, instead of their backs.
Playing to win:
Americans don’t like ties. We either want to bitch or boast, but not shake hands and agree to disagree.
To hear commentators say things like, “These teams are content to sit back and defend for a 90-minute, nil-nil draw.” or “You get the feeling there’s a goal in this game, maybe late in the second half.” It’s enough to send any self-respecting American scrambling for a 300-point NBA overtime thriller.
You obviously can’t remove ties from the game, but maybe stop celebrating and promoting them as acceptable outcomes. We want more, we want more, Win WIN!
The night the Galaxy beat the Houston Dynamo for their second consecutive championship, none of the local news channels offered any significant coverage. If they mentioned it at all, it went like this: “…and that’s why the Texas Christian Horned Frogs Lacrosse team dedicated its entire season to a 3-legged squirrel named Laddy…oh, and the California Galaxy soccer squad won tonight 3 points to 1 point. Now back to you, Genesis for the weather!”
If you want to get lots of people on board with our league, then they need to know that it exists. You can’t expect random strangers to wander accidentally into a soccer match in the Carson, California suburbs and become instant fans. I assume that the Galaxy have someone who handles these things, right? Public Relations? Media Relations? Promotions, perhaps? Now’s a good time to wake that slacker up and put him against the wall for crimes against our sport.
Just try to find a bar, restaurant, or public wickiup anywhere in LA with ONE piece of Galaxy paraphernalia on the wall. TVs showing a game are almost as rare. If you’re looking for a scintillating Tiger Woods interview about eagles or birdies or parrots, YOU’RE IN LUCK! You’re also brain dead.
While the total lack of local coverage is perplexing and damning for the league and in particular the Galaxy, ESPN’s cold shoulder is something far beyond perplexing. The network actually broadcasts select MLS games and yet they rarely ever mention a league result or a full day’s action on any episodes during its 24-hour cycle of Sports Center. ESPN does offer soccer-specific programming, but how about some simple recaps and highlights while I’m drinking my coffee in the morning and my beer at night. And what casual American fan would watch an hour of news about leagues in Europe and Latin America anyway? None.
Sacrilege?…You bet. This article gets me a dirty beatdown in most corners of the world. But in this corner, I’m speaking the gospel truth. The American market needs its own brand of soccer to flourish. You can’t feed Great White Sharks broccoli and carrots, man; they’ll roll over and die! Sharks need meat, and Americans need soccer to meet us halfway, preferably with a case of beer and some hot wings. It’s not that big of a leap, really. Cars are sold to the weird Japanese market differently than they’re sold to the creepy German market and differently still than they’re sold to the strange Salvadoran market. Likewise, the super cool American market needs its own slightly cooler brand of soccer. Too radical? So be it! Either way, my toes are tapping. If MLS doesn’t change a bit, it’s still the best game in town by far, with a fan experience for the whole family that none of the bloated majors can touch. Me and mine have a great time at every Galaxy game. And if anyone within earshot utters one disparaging word about the greatest American player ever, I’ll go hooligan on his mohawk unless my 10-year-old daughter gets to him first. ¡Viva, Soccer Americano! Now piss off, ESPN’s 3-hour “Butt Fumble” Documentary is about to start.