There's More To Soccer Here Than M&t Game

July 08, 2009|By KEVIN COWHERD

Let's talk about soccer. No, stay with me here. The whole column's only 750 words. How painful can it be?

I write about the game today because this is an exciting time for soccer fans in Baltimore.

For one thing, we're coming off the big Confederations Cup final between the U.S and Brazil, which the Brazilians won, 3-2, for a very simple reason: They cheated.

No, I'm kidding. The Brazilians won because they're terrific players and outworked the Americans in the second half. It's that simple.

The other reason local soccer fans are jazzed is the big international match in a few weeks between A.C. Milan and Chelsea at M&T Bank Stadium.

They've already sold 65,000 tickets for the event, so the place will be packed with delirious soccer fans waving flags and chanting and singing.

Hopefully, they won't be blowing those plastic horns like they did for the Confederations Cup, which made it sound like a gigantic swarm of bees was overhead.

You can take that noise for about, oh, five minutes. Then you want to throw yourself off a cliff.

Speaking of singing, I was browsing the Internet recently and came across a few of the songs sung by supporters of the Chelsea Football Club.

If you go to the big game July 24, you might want to cover the kids' ears, because here are some sample lyrics:

Carefree wherever we may be

We are the famous CFC

And we don't give a [bleep]

Whoever you may be

'Cos we are the famous CFC

Ohhh-kay. Guess you wouldn't want to bump into Chelsea fans at Harborplace before the big game.

I also came across a few A.C. Milan songs, and maybe they're just as misanthropic.

But the problem was they were in Italian and I couldn't find a translated version, which pretty much killed reprinting them here.

One thing I don't want to get into is the tired subject of why soccer hasn't caught on in this country.

The truth is, it has caught on. In fact, it's bigger than ever.

More kids - and adults - are playing soccer than ever. The quality of play has never been higher. Interest in the game has never been higher. The hard-core fan base has never been larger.

The problem is soccer hasn't caught on with mainstream sports fans. The type of fans who watch football, baseball and basketball and tune in to, say, the Olympics or Wimbledon tennis or U.S. Open golf on occasion.

By the way, this isn't just my opinion.

Kevin Healey, president and general manager of the Baltimore Blast and a guy who was instrumental in bringing the A.C. Milan-Chelsea match to Baltimore, feels the same way.

"We're not going to be NFL football," he said the other day. "That's never going to happen. But could we be NHL hockey? I think so."

But for that to happen, Healey says, U.S. soccer needs to do a few things.

* No. 1: Create more goal-scoring opportunities. Because final scores of 1-nil or whatever are like an IV drip of Nyquil to most sports fans.

"Instead of defense, defense, defense ... play a more upbeat style of game," Healey said.

"We can look at what Europe does or South America does [with low-scoring games] ... but we have to understand our culture.

"And we can create [a more high-scoring environment] without changing the rules."

* No. 2, says Healey: "We've got to create that superstar, that Kobe Bryant of soccer. ... The poster's got to be up in the kid's bedroom."

A U.S. version of David Beckham or Ronaldinho, that's the ticket. A larger-than-life figure who transcends the sport and embodies "cool."

Sure, lots of soccer-loving kids idolize Landon Donovan, the high-scoring star of the U.S. men's national team. But he's not big enough yet.

Maybe we could get him to marry one of the Spice Girls. What's Sporty Spice up to these days?

* Finally, said Healey, what U.S. soccer needs to attract mainstream fans is success in big events like the World Cup and Confederations Cup matches. A win over Brazil last week would have been huge.

"We'll embrace it as our sport when we start to win," Healey said. " ... The guy who sits back and watches the Ravens or the Steelers and says 'Soccer, who needs it?' He'll start watching it when they start winning."

Yep, he's right. It always comes down to winning.

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