07/02/10 — Local opinion: Soccer has a ways to go

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Local opinion: Soccer has a ways to go

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on July 2, 2010 1:46 PM

Ghana eliminated the United States from the World Cup nearly a week ago, and suddenly there are plenty of good seats available on the American soccer bandwagon.

As quickly as interest in soccer grew in this country during the United State's journey to the knockout stage in South Africa, it will just as soon disappear.

Despite claims for years that soccer is the most-popular sport in this country, that popularity has yet to translate into success in international competition. The United States is 7-17-5 all-time in the World Cup, and has been outscored 56-32 in those 29 matches.

America's best effort in the World Cup was a third-place finish in 1930.

U.S. forward Landon Donovan, America's leading scorer with 45 international goals, isn't regarded by most experts as one the top-10 players in the world. Donovan has struggled to latch on with a club in the English Premier League, one of the top soccer associations in the world. He's spent the majority of his career relegated to the American-based Major League Soccer.

It's difficult to imagine Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning or Albert Pujols not playing in their respective sport's top league. Yet, that's where Donovan, the face of soccer in this country, finds himself.

According to usyouthsoccer.org, US Youth Soccer registers over three million players annually, between ages 5 and 19 in 55 US Youth Soccer Associations. Finding the correlation between the number of youth reportedly playing soccer in this country to soccer's success on television is difficult.

Major League Soccer has taken a back seat on television in this country.

In August of 2009, ESPN began broadcasting at least two English Premier League games a week. The MLS, which also airs on ESPN on a limited basis, is often shown in less than ideal time slots.

The NFL reported the best average viewership in 2009 it's experienced in 20 years at 17.4 million through the first four weeks of the season. However, the MLS attracted less than 30,000 viewers per game last season.

The United States' loss to Ghana garnered 14.5 million viewers on ABC and another 4.5 million on Univision. Sustaining that type of interest for four years until the next World Cup won't be easy.

Soccer is a wonderful game that centers on strategy, teamwork and fitness that played a large role in my childhood. However, convincing a child in this country that soccer can one day help them reach the same idol-like status Bryant, LeBron James or Pujols currently enjoy is a tough sell.

Unless soccer becomes increasingly more popular among youth in this country and the MLS gains more credibility, America's chances of producing the top players in the world will always be slim.

Until the United States starts competing with a roster that boasts some of the world's best players, the World Cup will forever be something Americans watch instead of win.