America being the melting pot that it is, everyone lives next to a foreigner. Actually, to be totally precise, unless you're a Navajo or a Sioux or an Apache, etc., you are a foreigner. But some of us are more foreign than others. My grandparents emigrated from Sweden, for instance, so I'm of course an American, but I have a neighbor whose parents emigrated from Belgium, so he considers himself, as you'll note, a foreigner. His roots are close enough to his old world ancestry that he knows two things: 1, soccer is really football and 2, he is living in a country that treats soccer the way a fourth-grade field trip treats the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
With the World Cup upon us, I am reprinting the following comments from my foreign neighbor - we'll call him Ron - concerning "Why Americans Don't Like Soccer." When your foreign neighbors jump on the subject, tell them you've already heard it.One problem. I think he's serious. His headline suggestion: "Pearls Before Swine."
We foreigners have read them: Those editorials in the American press saying how boring soccer is and how the upcoming World Cup is going to be a total snooze unless you carry a green card, eat funny food or are just a generation or two off the boat.
It is a well-known fact that Americans don't like soccer. But no one has asked the crucial question: WHY? As an international public service, I have taken it upon myself to ponder this mystery. The answer I have arrived at is that the real reason Americans don't like soccer has more to do with Americans as a people than it does with soccer as a sport.
Here's why Americans continue to reject the world's greatest sport:
1. AMERICANS LIKE BIG SCORES
It is true that soccer is a low-scoring game. This creates an instant problem for a nation that likes everything bigger than life: Their cars, their army, their national debt . . .
Americans are crazy about high scores! They invented basketball, a sport so shockingly easy (some American basketball players can actually dunk the ball without jumping) that scores regularly surpass the century mark. Basketball games often end up being tied, which leads to an inevitable overtime, and more points being scored. Everyone goes home happy.
Or consider American football. Every time the Denver Broncos score a touchdown they earn six points. But that is not enough, because Americans need . . . an extra point!
So what do they do? The players line up and kick a ball between two goalposts from about 15 yards away. Now, this is something any grandmother in Botswana can do, but Americans still cheer when the ball sails through the goalposts. That is why a 1-0 soccer final holds absolutely no appeal to them. Heck, that's just an extra point.
2. AMERICANS AREN'T VERY . . . UH . . . WELL . . . YOU KNOW . . .
Let's be honest, Americans aren't recognized the world over for their discrimination when it comes to sports.
The big three American sports are American football (three yards, a cloud of dust and 14 commercials), baseball (they think soccer is boring?) and basketball (watch the last five minutes, and you've seen the game). These sports are perfectly created for people with a limited attention span because the coach tells each player where to run, when to run and what to do when they get there. Thinking, much less creativity, is not required.
And that limited attention span is why there are so many commercials during a game (soccer has none). Americans can only pay attention so long, so . . . every five minutes . . . they need to take a break. It's the adult equivalent of nap time.
Soccer, on the other hand, requires each player on the field to make instant decisions - decisions that each teammate must immediately react to. This, the game's inherent difficulty, and the fact that no coaching or timeouts are allowed while the game is in progress, makes soccer a low scoring game. But it also is what makes soccer poetic, artistic, flowing.
Perhaps that cultural approach is why we foreigners have created a disproportionate share of Michaelangelos, Beethovens and Shakespeares, and look forward to seeing their athletic counterparts during the World Cup.
3. AMERICANS ARE A NERVOUS LOT
Americans are a dynamic, active people. Every year they crave a new look, a new sound, a new cause. Americans like change in their life and in their sports.
A few years ago, the Dallas Cowboys had one of the worst records in the league. To show you how bad they were, they didn't even make the playoffs! And almost everyone in America makes the playoffs!
The Cowboys have now won the last two Super Bowls. But, after a public spat, the owner recently fired the coach. What will the Cowboys do this year? No one knows, and that's the way Americans like it.
A soccer fan in France always knows PSG will finish near the top. Anderlecht rarely disappoints in Belgium. And there are worse things to be than an Italian soccer fan who likes AC Milan. We like this security.
Americans, however, hate to see one team dominate. To ensure this, they have created a system which guarantees change (and rewards mediocrity). They call it the "draft." Every year, the WORST teams in the nation get first pick of the BEST young players! Does this make any sense? This is very strange behavior for a people so desperately afraid of socialism.
4. AMERICANS SEE THEMSELVES AS WINNERS
Americans like to win. They like to win a lot. And this causes a problem as far as the World Cup is concerned because, putting it kindly, the American national soccer team stinks. It's going to be very hard for Americans to chant "We're No. 1!" when the Swiss, Romanians and Colombians are running circles around their team.
And unlike the "world" championships loudly claimed each year by American football, basketball and baseball teams (I don't remember: How did Cuba do in the last "World Series?"), this is a REAL world championship! The cream of the soccer world is coming to America.
5. SOCCER IS "BORING"
It is amazing that an American who thinks soccer is boring will relish a no-hitter in baseball.
Such a fan might fidget nervously when a power hitter comes to the plate (the way we wince if the ball lands at the feet of a renowned scorer) and will roar in delight when the outfielder makes a dazzling catch of a ball that looked like it was "going out" (as we cheer when a defender takes out a scorer with a vicious tackle).
Then, when the last batter grounds out, this fan will leap to his feet and cheer a marvelous accomplishment: A pitcher not letting someone hit the ball safely. Obviously, the final score is not the final indicator of how enjoyable a sporting event can be.
And that is exactly where soccer's beauty comes in. It comes from seeing a player running at full speed to support a teammate. It comes from watching Diego Maradona do the impossible with a ball. It comes from seeing a player dribble through a defense at full speed and then launch a rocket shot at goal.
That is soccer. ESPN estimates that the World Cup will be seen by over 3 billion people worldwide, which will make it the most watched event in history (and, as one writer put it: Makes the Super Bowl look like a high school pickup game). We invite you to join us.
P.S. I'd like to offer an open invitation to all those sports writers who wrote smug articles about soccer to come see a game with me. We'll go see my team, Antwerp, and stand in the X-side. You can wear the opposing team's colors (I'll spring for the shawl). I promise you . . . you won't be bored.