Soccer: sport of the year?

BY MATT MERKEL

SPORTS EDITOR

Growing up in America all of my life has conditioned me to think the NFL is the greatest piece of television I have ever witnessed. When I’m not glued to every stat, score and argument during August to February I make sure to check out the NBA. That tides me over from January until June and then I bide my time until next August with some baseball. During the year I’ll occasionally check out hockey, maybe NASCAR if I remember to tune in for the Daytona. I’ll also throw on dog grooming or curling for its 9.3 out of 10 rating on my “Laughability factor.”

Every four years I am reminded of a sport that I never watch yet always captivates me for two-week stretches: soccer. While I understand why so few people in this country watch the MLS, it baffles me why most people, me included, do not have more “football” in their sports-watching diet.

When I think about it, there are numerous reasons on every skill level as to why soccer is such an interesting sport. The biggest reason: It’s so popular. In terms of number of players, soccer has 265 million players in the world. It reaches every corner of the globe, and every kid is basically born with the basic knowledge of the game.

When a sport has the most athletes that play it, you can bet it also leads the pack in another category. Soccer has more fans worldwide than any other sport. If I were to take up any sport to get globally recognized it would be soccer, hands down.

Soccer is also inexpensive. Getting your child into soccer costs about as much as a pair of cleats at Dick’s Sporting Goods. When compared to football, hockey, mountain climbing, etc. soccer is a no brainer when it comes introduction. Another aspect of soccer and why it’s perfect at an introductory level is that it’s easy to learn. The basics of soccer come easy to most children and beginners because it’s pretty straightforward. Other sports are more complex to learn, where as soccer has mostly blanket rules such as “Don’t use your hands!” or “no offsides!” or “don’t drink before your game!” Wait, what?

Many athletes stay with soccer because it does not require the same physical demands as football, for example. Do not get me wrong, soccer players are very strong and could ruin me in a second, but the sport of soccer focuses mainly on athleticism and fitness rather than being physically imposing. Soccer players are forced to be more creative over being dominant.

One of the greatest draws to soccer is the lack of injuries. According to a 2006 High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, per 1,000 athlete exposures, male and female soccer players had a rate of 2.43 and 2.36 respectively. On the professional level, fans can watch their favorite players for decades rather than just years as any fan of CJ Spiller, Cameron Wake or Patrick Willis can attest to.

Soccer is one of those sports that I honestly may never ever watch. I’ll want my kids to watch it, however. It has a bit of class to it, and could even teach a young person about culture just by the fans alone. Take it for what its worth, but I think soccer needs more popularity in this country.

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