RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
That rugged western landscape could be described as quintessentially American. Commentator Frank Deford has been thinking about something that is decidedly not.
FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: Wherever you stand on the matter of American exceptionalism, there is one indisputable fact. We are the exception when it comes to soccer. For just about every other nation, soccer is the sport - a far, far better thing than the American dollar, beer, Google or sex. Alas, in the United States, soccer has been more commonly identified with soccer moms than soccer players. But today, here, indisputably, soccer is more visible. And given American football's problems with brain injuries, more of our boys are likely to take up world football.
Soccer boosters play up to our growing Hispanic market, more even than do our fawning politicians, praying that young Latino fans will not grow up and be seduced by glamorous gringo games. But soccer here has a curious impediment to its popularity. And that is, well, American soccer's problem is soccer - everybody else's soccer. After all, Americans not only believe that we are the blessed exceptional but that we have the divine right to always have the most exceptional entertainment right at our fingertips.
The British Empire theatrical division seems to have taken up residence here. And hey, nobody - nobody - has any problem with immigration if you're a baseball, basketball or hockey player - except not exceptional but except in soccer. In soccer, we're a penny stock. We're standby at the airport. We're lawns in Southern California - and all this at a time when Major League Soccer is celebrating its 20th birthday with some attractive soccer stadiums and a respectable average attendance of 19,000 per game. Lots of good stuff - except the MLS is too much like taking the Kardashians seriously.
What soccer fans really care about is European soccer, and that's quite available on TV. Even our most prominent soccer journalist, Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated, can't think of anything to call ratings for Major League Soccer but minuscule. English language ratings remain stagnant. Incredibly, David Beckham at the height of his deification could not get Americans to watch American soccer. And get this - the coach of the American team himself thinks our national players would be better off playing in Europe. Yes, the World Cup attracted terrific interest but then so does Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, every time she has a baby. Then it's back to all the first-rate exceptional diversions that we have right here.
Our fans for football, basketball, baseball and hockey have fantasy leagues. The fantasy for our soccer fans is that Major League Soccer will somehow become, well, major league because that's all that exceptional Americans are bred to expect - no exceptions.
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