Players should not have to grow their sport

Sports Editor

U.S. Men’s National Team goal-keeper, Tim Howard, recently spoke out about the lack of interest in American soccer, saying probably the most brilliant statement ever spoken; he said it was not the job of the players to develop the game. What a concept!

“I suppose it’s talked about in that context where it is on our shoulders to grow the sport,” he said last Wednesday. “We go out and play a beautiful game — or at least we try to — and the supporters are either attracted to that or not.”

There is a problem in American society, that one cannot solely blame on the people. Of course, many are patriotic and support our country’s team when they play, no matter the sport. However, interest fades when the team loses, or when the event is over.  This is what is called “bandwagoning,” and to a real sports fan, it is a slap in the face.

I respect true fans. The ones that stick with their team no matter the circumstances, no matter the statistics; when players win, there is celebration and when they lose, there are tears. This can be seen in the following of many regional teams, such as the Chiefs or the Royals. People recognize football and baseball, but there is much lower interest in soccer. That is, of course, unless America is doing well. When the USMNT is winning, Americans all of a sudden come out of their shell and many claim to be “super-fans.”

Howard recognizes that people prefer winners, and when a team is doing well, people are going to watch and support it. It was obvious this year when America had the second highest ticket sales to the World Cup, falling right behind Brazil. Bars in Wichita were packed and loud with supporters sporting their red, white and blue outfits.

“The numbers have been staggering — people want to watch,” Howard said. “That’s all we have to do. Go out there and try to win. America loves winners, we know that. So if we can keep winning and keep playing well, the rest of it will take care of itself.”

However, the second the U.S. fell to Belgium, the American people started to sing a different tune. They moved on. The fire was gone, and that is not how fan-ship works. I can almost guarantee the majority of people who watched the United States play in the World Cup this year will not follow a single Major League Soccer game or team next season. It is not only an insult to players, who work all year to be the best at their sport to play at the international level, but the team must come home and face people who never cared in the first place.

The USMNT was the underdog in its group this year in the World Cup tournament. After making it through the “Group of Death,” and pulling together through some steep competition, the players proved themselves as a serious soccer club. Before the tournament, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann admitted there was no way the U.S. was going to win the World Cup.

“We cannot win this World Cup, because we are not at that level yet,” Klinsmann told the New York Times in December. “For us, we have to play the game of our lives seven times to win the tournament.”

Still the team proved many wrong by advancing through the group stage into the Round of 16 before finally falling to Belgium 2-1 last week. A job well done if you ask any true soccer fan. The USMNT has not made it to the quarter final round since 2002, and even then, it was the first time the team advanced.

“I think this is really important for everyone to see, especially for the players, that we’re getting better and we’re getting stronger with every game that we play.” Klinsmann said. “We’re building more and more the stronger foundation.”

That is a foundation that is being built without a nation of people cheering the team on. If that does not earn the U.S. men’s soccer team respect, then I don’t know what will. Americans should support the team year-round, and develop their own interest in the sport. The players have done more than prove they are worthy of respect. They’ve earned it. However, as Klinsmann molds the new recruits and veteran players, the team as a whole still has a long way to go.

The U.S. has many young players who need strong leadership to become great. Playing in the World Cup showcased new faces including Julian Green who scored his first career goal with less than 45 minutes of professional soccer play. Still, the team needs to be challenged on a world-level to compete well with international teams.

“The talent gap is difficult to discuss,” Klinsmann said. “We’ve done well to recruit a lot of good talents and we need to have those competitions to make them grow…this is not the Champions League. That experience will help them and we will simply keep building.”

The moral of the story is simple: soccer is the number one game in the world, yet America seems to refuse it as a respectable sport. Mostly, people need to get educated and not depend on the players to pull them in to each match. When people spend time supporting a sport, they invest their time and money into, allowing for the purchase of better players and a stronger marketing pull. Until that happens, soccer will never get the respect it deserves.