WORCESTER, MA–It’s about two hours after the Germans have captured their fourth World Cup and first without a divisive geographic prefix. The Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra transitions into “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” Musicians, like comics, possess a good sense of timing.
Picnicking couples and leashless dogs and aged arts aficionados populate the hill overlooking the bandstand. The field below hosts a singular demographic: children. One spies a few frisbees, two footballs, and no baseball gloves in the valley below. About a dozen flying soccer balls traverse the orchestra.
If the leisure pursuits of the school children running about Institute Park serve as any indication, then the one-month soccer infomercial just concluding on ABC/ESPN appears to have worked remarkably well. It turns out that America won’t be conquered for the kicking sport by a gang of soccer hooligans from England or an invasion of illegals from across the southern border. The game boasts a fifth column already within the country.
“We’ll get you through your children!” creepy poet Allen Ginsberg once taunted. That’s the hope of American soccer enthusiasts, too. They count on the popularity of soccer as a participatory sport for kids in this generation making it a popular spectator sport near the level of baseball, basketball, hockey, and football for the next generation of adults. Signs of this already taking place comes in the form of monster viewership that eclipsed the ten-million mark for Americans watching their countrymen take on Portugal, Germany, and Belgium.
If the Nielsen ratings don’t convince, then American kids kicking to a soundtrack of John Philip Sousa on a Sunday summer evening surely demonstrate that a onetime niche sport marches on its way to the mainstream. But the true test won’t come in the heady aftermath of the quadrennial contest. Next season, Major League Soccer looks to capitalize on the success of the World Cup in ratings and ticket sales. That’s been the recent trend. In 2007, MLS enjoyed an 8.2 percent attendance bump from the previous season. In 2011, fans in seats jumped by 7.2 percent.
MLS inevitably will enjoy a bounce in 2015. Then what? The difference between a trend and a trend line will emerge the season after that. Should Major League Soccer reap major-league revenues then Latin American blokes known by one name and Europeans equally adept at kicking round balls and decorating their bodies with obnoxious tattoos will follow that money, thereby improving the product on the field and the interest in the sport. But playing to half-empty stadiums beyond 2015 will signal that soccer’s oft-predicted golden age remains where it’s always been: the future.
And watching the future play European football as American standards play in the background at Institute Park eventually shows why the sport may continue to encounter difficulties planting strong roots in U.S. fields. In a fraction of the time that it took for the scoreboard to finally light up in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, light bulbs illuminate above the kids’ heads in Worcester suggesting how they might Americanize the foreign sport.
One threeish-year-old boy transforms his miniature soccer orb into a baseball. A group of older boys, seeing no yellow-card wielding referees intruding upon their patch of pitch, eagerly tackle the body of any boy whose feet possess the ball. “We’ve invented a new version of soccer,” another youth proudly reports to his mother. “You play with your hands.”
Americans bore easily.
Daniel J. Flynn, the author of The War on Football: Saving America’s Game (Regnery, 2013), edits Breitbart Sports.