Soccer matters

Those of us rooting for soccer to make it in the States have had a mixed year. Obviously, the US National Team did nothing to impress the sport's nay-sayers at the World Cup in Germany. Not only did the team fail to advance past the first round, but its feeble, chaotic demise signaled the end of the Bruce Arena era. Meanwhile, Hollywood's attempt to launch a soccer-film franchise, with the release of Goal! The Dream Begins, flopped big-time, with Goal! (the first in a trilogy) grossing a paltry $4.2 million.

Positive signs included the election of hard-working, experienced Sunil Gulati as president of the US Soccer Federation, as well as the release of Once in a Lifetime, an excellent documentary about the New York Cosmos of the old NASL, this country's first serious attempt at a professional league. (Full disclosure: My uncle, journalist Antonio Cirino, covered the Cosmos in those years.)

And then came this last weekend. At the Los Angeles Coliseum, some 92,650 fans watched FC Barcelona take on Chivas Guadalajara (and Chivas USA take on the Revolution) in a double-header that set an attendance record. (Too bad the Coliseum's pitch was in such shoddy shape.) At the MLS All-Star Game, the All-Stars defeated visiting Chelsea from across the Pond. And, in another milestone, MLS signed an eight-year agreement with ESPN – the first-ever rights-fee agreement for MLS, according to Sports Business Daily – in a deal worth $7-$8 million annually. Surely, the suits at Anschutz Entertainment Group are feeling a little better about their massive investment (gamble?) in soccer.

Soccer will never be among the Big Three sports – at least, not in my lifetime. And, MLS has a long way to go – both on and off the field – before it becomes truly major league. But a close alliance with ESPN is, in this era, mandatory. Look what happened when the network dropped the NHL last year: the sport virtually disappeared from "SportsCenter" and other ESPN-related entities.

We'll leave it to ESPN's John Skipper to sum up the network's confidence (arrogance?) in how they can grow soccer: "I'm the latest knucklehead who thinks soccer is going to work in the United States," Skipper told the Daily Herald. "Through the mind-numbing litany of ESPN products, it is almost impossible for me to believe that we can't move this [game] forward."

August 8, 2006 8:33 AM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor

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