Friday, April 4, 2008

Don't Trust Anyone over 40

Back in the sixties, they used to say don't trust anyone over thirty. Well since I am now entering my soon to be thirty third year on this planet, I have decided to change the rules a bit. Thirty is the new twenty, right? At least that's what my wife's Glamour magazine in the bathroom reading section is telling me. Before anyone says anything, most of you would read the label on toothpaste, if given the chance while sitting on the throne. Beggars can't be choosers.

I was listening to one of the sports' radio show talking heads yesterday. They were talking about soccer in America, or as the rest of the metric thinking world calls it, football. They were going on and on about how soccer will never take off in this country. They were talking about how it is a boring game where few points are scored. They said that it would never be on par with the big time pro sports over here. These arguments have been rehashed and drowned down to us for years, by those who aren't paying attention and usually by someone over the age of forty. You can guess that this talking head was born before 1968. The same arguments can be made about baseball, hockey, and hell even Nascar.

I grew up in a small town in Appalachia which is about as far removed from the mainstream of soccer fandom as you can get. My love for the game was brought to me by a Colombian exchange student named Dario Delgado who has became one of my dearest friends over the years since. We had no soccer in our town. It was nothing but the traditional American sports we all played, like football, basketball and baseball. Soccer wasn't even a thought in our minds. One day I saw Dario walking down the hallway. He was kicking a soccer ball in the air as he was walking and not letting hit the ground. It was an amazing trick. I walked over towards him. He kicked the ball to me and I sent it right back. He sent it back to me and I to him. It came almost naturally to me. This went on for a few minutes. We didn't notice, that a crowd of my friends had gathered around us watching us do this. A teacher came up and stopped us and said that we needed to take it outside. Something happened. I was hooked. All that year, whether it be at lunch, before school, or after school, we played soccer or some sort of game involving a soccer ball. Dario could barely speak English and I could barely speak Spanish, but we both spoke the game of soccer. By the end of that year, we both could speak each other's language making us both bilingual.

As time went on, more kids joined us. We soon would have enough for pick up games. We used anything we could for goals. It was never really organized. I don't remember who won or lost. I don't remember who had the most goals. All I remember is just playing. It was pure, just kids playing a game. For the next few years, we tried to get a team started. The football coach blocked us because he thought he would lose too many players. He was over forty. We talked to the head of the park system about a rec team. He said they didn't see a need for it. He was over forty too. So it was pickup games for us. When I went to college, I played intramurals both outdoor and indoor. Through it all, I never lost touch with my friend in Colombia.

During this time, a funny thing happened. America had the world cup. Soccer had begun to take hold. My town that had no interest in a rec league, soon had one. The high school had a team. The sport had begun to take off. I talked to a friend of mine a while ago back in my hometown. She said that the soccer program was by far the most popular sport for the kids. They now have as many kids in the soccer program as they do in all the other programs combined. This is just not in Appalachia, this is everywhere. In the US, soccer is by far the number one sport played by our youth.

From that World Cup in 1994, a new sustainable professional soccer league has begun to take hold. The MLS has learned its lessons from the NFL. It is by no coincidence either. One of the founders behind the league was the late great Lamar Hunt. Lamar was the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs. He helped build the AFL that eventually led to the merger of the NFL. There was a salary cap, so they didn't repeat the mistakes of before by having one or two teams with all the talent. They started small and have grown every year since in both ratings and attendance. The latest gigantic leap, being the Beckham Rule, which basically means a team can have one "designated" player who's salary does not count against the cap. This is why David Beckham is now in LA.

Is MLS the best league in the world? No, but it is growing. Proof of this, is that by 2010, almost every team will have it's own soccer specific stadium. Not bad for a league that just started in 1994. The NFL has been around since the 1920's. The MLB has been around since the turn of the century. The NHL has been around since the days of Prohibition and the NBA has been around since World War II. It is very short sighted to bash a league that has been around since the 1990's.

It seems to me, the people who are bashing it, never played the sport and never had the chance to. It shows their age and I dare say ignorance. I ask, how many people remember soccer leagues growing up? I had none. There were few if any and mostly in the big cities. Now it is the number one sport played by our kids today. Our Men's national team is in the top ten in the world. The junior team made it the quarters of the junior world cup. Some of our best players are playing in some of the top professional leagues in the world. It seems the rest of the world seems to think we are a growing power. It's a shame that some of us here can't see it. As the cliche goes, sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees. Don't trust anyone over forty...


P.S. Let's go Chelsea. Go Blues....

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