By Adam Gaub
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, September 26, 2005
America's obsession with being the best, especially in sports, would come as no surprise to anyone who has lived here.
What's surprising, then, is our country's surprising lack of support for our soccer teams - and that tragic flaw starts right here on campus, amplifying all the way to the lack of support the men's national soccer team garnered in its qualifying run for the 2006 World Cup.
In a brutal match that included five yellow cards being issued, the United States defeated its archrival Mexico 2-0 on Sept. 3 at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, becoming the first team in its pool to qualify for the World Cup. In the process, the team rose to No. 6 in the world, its highest ranking ever.
The U.S. has risen so quickly in the past two years that it is now achieving more success on the field than it is in obtaining a fan base.
Here on campus, that trend is consistent - the No. 22 Arizona women's soccer team is our single NCAA team, with the men being limited to a club team.
The women's squad finished its 2004 season as the Pacific 10 Conference champion in a surprisingly successful season that saw its coach, Dan Tobias, named national coach of the year by Soccer America.
Sadly, attendance at Murphey Stadium is rarely worth mentioning - despite the athletic department making admission free for not only students but also the general public.
The inability of Major League Soccer to attract fans has been evident from the start. Despite an increase of talented players, the league continues to wallow in virtual anonymity. The MLS averaged just 17,406 fans per game in its inaugural season in 1996, a total that has dropped below 15,000 this season, according to The Associated Press.
A major reason for that can be seen at the college level - Arizona is one of five Pac-10 members to choose not to field a men's soccer team. It is one of the men's sports sacrificed in the name of fairness thanks to Title IX. Oregon, Washington State, ASU and Southern California also choose not to field men's soccer teams - as the Pac-10 Conference had to pick up San Diego State in order to have a six-member conference.
With the lack of collegiate competition, it is little wonder the MLS has struggled to find American players who can compete with those coming out of Latin America and Europe.
The best players in the U.S. play for good money and bigger prestige in Europe, yet they willingly give off themselves for national pride and glory. Players like goalkeepers Kasey Keller and Tim Howard, midfielders Claudio Reyna and DaMarcus Beasley, defender Oguchi Onyewu, and midfielder Brian McBride all have found fame and fortune in the greener pastures of English and Belgian Premier Leagues, yet take no greater pride than in the opportunity to represent their country in the World Cup.
Seemingly half of the NBA bailed on the chance to play for their country at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, with the exception being the always underrated and soft-spoken superstar Tim Duncan, sending the U.S. to a disappointing bronze medal finish.
Apparently, Americans are concerned with entertainment. Period. Look at the rise of the And1 basketball circuit, with the emphasis on unbelievable behind-the-back passes, alley-oops and tomahawk jams rather than aggressive rebounding, fundamental defense and unselfish play. It isn't hard to fathom that in another 10 years or so, the NBA will duplicate And1's idea of the play-by-play announcer running around on the court with the players yelling, "Oh no," "No, he didn't" or just simply repeating the player's nickname for about 10 minutes while the players strut around the court like roosters done with their henhouse rounds.
We're so desperate for winners on campus that we focus obsessively on basketball. It wouldn't surprise me if we ran a story on Lute Olson sneezing frequently during a charity shuffleboard tournament.
The student section for both home football games this season, even against lowly Division II "rival" NAU, was packed to the brim - not unlike sardines jammed into a tin can.
It is a sad reflection of our student body's desire to truly cheer on its athletes when students would pass up a spacious bleacher seat on a sunny afternoon in Tucson for about 10 inches of standing-room-only space in the Saturday student section.
I love watching the football team as much as the next person - and it is fun to hear the crowd in full throat as the Cats hang tough against big-time opponents.
Why is it, however, that we can't create such an atmosphere for soccer, where our team is the defending Pac-10 victor and has been ranked in the Top 25 all season?
Not to say that a sport like soccer is the pure mantra of sporting holiness - it has its fair share of prima donnas (see David Beckham, Real Madrid) and contract issues (see Ashley Cole, Arsenal) as well.
However, the lack of respect American soccer players get from their country - on or off this campus - is appalling.
The national team had to fight to have its match with Mexico aired live - finally getting it shown by ESPN Classic, a network that isn't even available on basic cable packages.
Attendance at Crew Stadium was 24,685, a bit short of the venue's 30,000-person capacity. More than double that amount showed up Sept. 17 to watch our unranked Cats lose to then-No.12 Purdue, 31-24.
The lack of support for the U.S. men's soccer team reflects poorly on our nation as a whole. Despite the rabid growth and increasing popularity of the American Youth Soccer Organization and multiple club soccer organizations across America in the past decade, soccer on the national level is still covered worse on television than poker tournaments, bass fishing and darts tournaments.
It's the death of any sport in America: It's too boring. There's not enough scoring. The game is too long.
We are no longer interested in watching winners. We are simply consumed with as much ritz and glitz in sports as we can get - saturating our sporting palates with a plate chock-full of egotistical, image-conscious, me-first athletes that reflect poorly upon America and what it idolizes.
Adam Gaub is a journalism senior. He can be reached at email@example.com.