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Hockey vs. Soccer: Why Should We Care?

So its been a while...

So here we are on the start of the 2006 World Cup. Excited? No, I didn't think so. On the eve of the most anticipated sporting event in the world, it seems that America remains uninterested and unmoved by the cult-like movement that is competitive soccer. It continues be an amazement of the sporting universe of how a sport so loved and followed throughout the world can be so ignored in the media driven nation such as ours. We just don't care. It's the truth.

So why is that?

The other day on ESPN radio, the topic of discussion was a hypothetical question of "Which sport do you think has the ability to gain American interest - Soccer or Hockey?" After hearing many people's opinions, it seemed that hockey was the overwhelming victor, as many chose the wonderful sport on ice. How can this be? Well here are some logical thoughts on the question:


  1. NHL vs. MLS - Sports in America are always judged, criticized and value based upon the success or recent success for this manner, of its professional league. The National Hockey League is coming off a huge strike, yet regained its fans due to a reinvention of the sport with new rules and new fan friendly accommodations. Major League Soccer continues to draw poor to little main stream attention as it struggles in attendance and support, yet it does well enough to survive. Nonetheless, the Stanley Cup Finals are currently going on, yet no one knows the situation of the series. However, on the other side, not many know when the MLS season begins, or even when the championship game takes place. Advantage: Hockey
  2. Home Grown Product - Many would argue that soccer is not a sport that is "American". Our culture is weaved into sports which were created or developed here on our soil. Sports such as Baseball, Basketball, American Football, Golf, and gosh darn it, good ole NASCAR run the show, and are followed daily almost religiously by fans. Soccer is a sport that the rest of the world plays. Although the rest of the world is catching up in basketball and in baseball, the popular American notion is that we are not good in soccer, never have, never will be. So why care? Hockey on the other hand also shares the non-American roots, as hockey's strongest fanebase is north of the border. Yet, its just that - north of the border. It's close enough. Advantage: Hockey
  3. Transitional Figure - Every sport has had the figure that has help his or her sport sort of carve its niche into American culture. Michael Jordan was there for Basketball. Tiger Woods for Golf. Dale Earnhardt for NASCAR. The Babe for Baseball and the list goes on and on. Hockey was fortunate to have a figure which did this for the sport, nonetheless, a figure that is considered one of the most influential athletes of all-time in Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky moved along the game and helped it flourish onto the American sports fan's television set. Gretzky was there for Hockey. Soccer on the other hand is still waiting for their knight in shining armor. Some may say, Pele, but how many people really know Pele's story? Many soccer experts were hoping that Freddy Adu would be be that guy, but it has yet to happen. Until we can associate a name with the sport, we won't care. Advantage: Hockey
  4. Television - Television has become a very important vehicle in the success of sports. Ratings, advertising, endorsements and viewing packages all influence the game and the business side of it. Hockey continues to struggle in this department. Many times you tune into a hockey game, the puck, which it's location is very essential to the game, is hard to visibly pick up on a screen. FOX tried a couple of years ago to put a laser type light on it, yet still failed to keep up with it. In other sports, it is clear to see when a team scores. Hockey fails to meet this. Quite simple, Hockey makes for bad television. Soccer on the other hand has all the tools to make for great television. Big field, big goals, wide shot, one visible ball. You can't ask for more. Advantage: Soccer
Hockey wins 3-1.

It is evident why Hockey, which has become the red-headed step child of American sports, has a far more viable future than that of Soccer. Yet, it still continues to resonate...Why don't we care? An outstanding number of youth each year participate in soccer. Does the sport of soccer lose each and every one of those kids to other sports? It makes one ponder...

Yet as the World Cup is about to begin, things are a little different. America is good in soccer. Team USA is currently ranked 5th in the world and experts consider it to be the best United States team assemlbed - ever. America has a shot to win on the biggest sports stage in front of the world, in a sport that many believe we are weak at.

Yet, you're probably still thinking , who cares?

In an article written by Wayne Drehs on ESPNsoccernet, Drehs states:

Try playing with chants of "Osama bin Laden! Osama bin Laden!" raining down, the Americans say. Try getting ready for kickoff with uniformed militia guarding the field holding ready-to-fire machine guns. Try scoring a goal with rocks, batteries and bottles flying toward you. And try falling asleep the night before a match while fans drive by your team hotel, honking horns, setting off cherry bombs and blasting music.
A recent Gatorade commercial highlighted the rocky road that brought the U.S. to Germany. In one clip, fans stomped on the stadium floor so hard that the ceiling tiles shook in the U.S. locker room. In another clip a fan held a massive sheet that read, "Yankees Go Home." And in another clip, a fan held a sheet that depicted a U.S. player as the devil.
The unwritten and unspoken motto is to expect the unexpected. Lost luggage. Fire alarms at 2 a.m. Bus drivers getting lost. And no running water at the stadium, making postgame showers nothing fancier than pouring a couple bottles of water down your back.
When you're an American, it doesn't matter," DaMarcus Beasley said. "They see that uniform, and then you're the enemy.

Do you care now?

For one month, soccer will become a canvas for America to illustrate it's sporting dominance in the world. To do that, they will have to overcome all odds and defeat the world in their game. For one month, soccer becomes our game. The World Cup can indeed become yet another "Miracle" story.

Go figure. The first was indeed a hockey story.

I guess Hockey will always remain ahead of Soccer, no matter how we try to twist it.

*USA Soccer 2006*

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