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Ubiquitous Game – Soccer’s All Over the Place

MLS as Role Model

What's the impact of the MLS on youth soccer? The league has been around for 12 years now. Has the league inspired more kids to play soccer or stick with it beyond the usual age? Has soccer's accessibility let's say on TV or via the Internet, helped grow the base of kids playing soccer--inspired more players.

Now, with more ease, young soccer players can look up to pros as role models and follow them each week. Stars aren't just posters on the wall. What do they call them, wall bangers? We'll really know when soccer has made it when the main advertisers on Fox Soccer aren't Kick Medic and Wall Bangers, no disrespect to either the banger or the medic they’re just not beer commercials. When alcohol is advertised on a sports broadcast you know they’re making money.

But when I was younger you really had to dig to find soccer. I think I watched my first English Premier league match when I was in college. I'd borrow videos from friends or grabbed books about the game as I got older, but it was rare to find a game on TV or even cable for that matter.

The thing with soccer is everyone plays when their 6 or 7, but they drop out and play the big other sports as they get older. They want to be Mike or now Lebron and not Adu. Could you imagine if Lebron played soccer? What's interesting, and maybe evident in the past women's World Cup in China, is that the small skillful player, someone like a Marta for example, are the ones that cause more harm to opposing defenders then physically stronger athletes let's say. Look at Robinho, he's spends more time dancing in the discothèques than in a gym.

Foreign Exchange Students

Have you played soccer with a foreigner who thinks they're Ronaldo, just because they come from Brazil or the Spaniards who thinks they’re Raul since they come from Spain? For one thing though, they do know how to play the game, their technique just isn't on par with their mouth or their idol for the most part. They do know where to play the ball and how to move though. They've grown up watching soccer. They come to your high school, take all the girls and whip up on your high school team but party too much and don’t play after college.

The Ball

That's the thing about soccer, or at least that's what the soccer player likes to say, you can't just pick up the game in a flash, it takes time to train your feet to work in a comfortable manner as your hands. If someone throws you a ball you can catch it, but if some one throws you a ball can you keep it up in the air once, and then hit a volley.

The Superstar

The great athlete can't just step into the game of soccer and be a star. Sure, to a certain extent they can, but a player like Eddie Johnson, who has blazing speed and the potential to be a World Class star, just doesn't seem to have the touch or savvy of forwards in the EPL. I don't see him fitting in as part of a tandem, like Yorke and Cole, in their days at Manchester United. Eddie's young though, it's too early to say just yet. Adu, at his young age, took a beating by the soccer community because he wasn't a savior of the MLS. He now seems to have reached a more confidant place, and showing that on the field. He has a new role model named Rui Costa. He came on late as a sub against AC Milan in the Champions League. Kids watching Adu play against Kaka and then seeing Ronaldinho and DaMarcus Beasley embrace after their recent game--might make them their idols. And there's talk of Altidore to Real, and I don't mean Real Salt Lake a la Freddy's past trade. Adu and Jozy's counter parts in the NBA, Kobe and Wade. And then there's Dempsey, he's just legit. However, look at a player like Bojan, the new forward for Barcelona; he has a knack for the game that appears to be nearly innate.

The growing almost ubiquity of the game, whether it's the MLS, YouTube videos, Fox Soccer, Setanta or ESPN games, gives young players more models to follow and stars to dream about becoming. Youngsters can pull together parts of all these different players’ games into your own. That's the path to success, whether it's art or sport, you take bits and pieces of your idols and incorporate them into your game. The way Messi plays is no doubt both art and sport. He's the new Maradona. Wolcott is the new Henry. There's always a precursor. Someone dreamed about being someone else.

The thing you always hear is what if Dwayne Wade or Allen Iverson played soccer, can you imagine.

It's amazing how many LA Galaxy emblazoned Beckham jerseys have been sold all over the world, but are there future Beckhams out in the back yard striking the ball against a wall, imagining themselves in the MLS, taking a free kick to win the game, bending the ball around an imaginary wall. I'm sure there are.

Education

Kids learn a number of different ways, and then not all kids have access to a computer or cable TV. And that's the real beauty of soccer; pickup games in the park with players from all over the world are free. But it takes a combination of a number of things to become a great soccer player, a mentor, exposure to the games great players, following in love with the sport--because there's no short cut. You have to spend time with the ball.

If you've watched a Champions League match or a World Cup game, it's pretty easy to fall for the game. If you've been to one, then you might just become obsessed. Drew Carey might fall into this category. And soccer, it's actually an expensive sport when it comes to all the traveling and camps and tournaments, and then the shoes you have to have and other gear. But the pure game, that is something that's passed down from a family member or a mentor or a coach or a player that has given you encouragement.

But now, yes, you can see more soccer, you can go to games. There's a growing following of certain MLS teams. There's Fox Setanta, and usually local Spanish channels that show matches, it's not just a flash of a game on TV during the World Cup with terrible announcing. There are ads for Beckham and then Nike's recent women's soccer campaign. I wasn't surrounded by the game so much growing up. You had to seek it out. I remember seeing Diego Maradona on the cover of SI holding the World Cup trophy, but didn't see any of the games in Mexico on TV.

The Tube

Now, you simply type in Hand of God and see the Maradona clip from Mexico. Does that diminish the art of the story? No longer is it relaying a story, just punch it in to Google and watch it. But that's another article.

Sure, if we’re looking just at America soccer players this video numbers are not exclusive to the red white and blue, and the age range I’m sure is broad, but you get the idea:

1,662,682 watched this Messi Compilation

American Idol

How many kids went out into the yard and tried to hit the post like him or did they just want to buy more Nike gear? Be like Mike? Now it's Be like Messi. And Messi's not a bad role model. He respects his mentor, Ronaldinho, with a unique kind of feeling. A player who was told he was too small. But are kids getting better in the United States. Results from the most recent U-20 World Cup might just answer this question and the growing list of Yanks Abroad. Is this due to the MLS developing young players or just technology and access to broadband? No really, there are more and more players being developed in this country, new training centers like the one built by Brad Friedel and select young players going on tours sponsored by soccer shoe companies and the MLS.

Who’s Watching

I had a friend ask me the other day if I watch the MLS. Among soccer players the respect isn't necessarily there for MLS whole heartedly, as though it just isn't there yet. But I told him yeah, the last few years I've become a real fan, certain teams have a spirit, a style, like DC United and Houston, and if you followed the MLS this year, the fight that LA showed on their win streak without Beckham, nearly getting into the playoffs, that might just pull you in to watch more. Yeah, the MLS has settled into a league I watch, along with a ton of kids via TV or via YouTube highlights, but the role models, those are still Messi, Ronaldinho, Kaka, and Henry, not yet Jozy and Adu and Dempsey, but soon.


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