June 22, 2010
Americans get a kick out of Soccer every Four Years Part III by David Weinberg
In other countries, it’s a totally different story. Soccer is king.
Holloway was raised about 40 miles outside of London in Reading, England. Like every other boy in town, he grew up with soccer. He played for the Reading Football Club from ages 9 to 18. He also was a big fan of Chelsea in the English Premier League.
In Europe and South America, kids dream of becoming the next David Beckham or Lionel Messi, a 22-year-old Argentine who is described in a recent issue of Sports Illustrated as the best player in the world. Landon Donovan is considered the top American player, but is overshadowed by LeBron James, Peyton Manning and Derek Jeter.
“Here in the United States, it’s all about American football and baseball with kids,” said Antonio Cortes, a Pleasantville resident who grew up in Mexico. “There are a lot of different sports to choose from. In Mexico, it’s all about (soccer). Everyone plays, whether you live in a small town or big city. I’m 43 now, but I still play. And I’m always watching soccer on TV on Univision, ESPN Desportes and Telemundo.
“I’m also doing my best to teach my kids and keep them interested in soccer. My son Emilio (12) plays for the Ocean City Nor’Easters (developmental team) and even my daughter Daniella (3) kicks the ball around. Right now, I’m getting them ready for the World Cup. We have books with all the players and we’re taking stickers and putting them in the books. I’m hoping they’ll stick with it. Soccer is a great game.”
Victor Figueroa, a Linwood resident who grew up in Mexico City, has the same approach. Like Cortes, Figueroa started playing and following soccer as a child and never stopped being a fan. When he’s not watching games at home, he turns games on while working at Walt’s Original Primo Pizza in Somers Point. His daughter, Jessica, plays soccer for Mainland Regional High School. “We played whenever we could, usually in the streets,” Victor Figueroa said with a laugh. “Kids have it easy over here with grass fields and cleats. We played in bare feet on concrete or in dirt. And I still watch whenever I get a chance. I have two TVs in the shop and I watch it there, too.”
The key to increasing the popularity of soccer in the U.S. may be to get younger generations to watch more games. Locally, the Phillies and Eagles will always dominate. But if more people begin to follow the Philadelphia Union, a first-year franchise in the MLS, maybe those kids who are running around on weekends will stick with soccer even after they hang up their shinguards.
The Union have drawn well in their first two home games at Lincoln Financial Field, where the Eagles play. The season opener, the team’s debut in Philadelphia, drew 34,870 fans, while their second game, on May 15, drew 25,038. The team is moving into a new soccer-specific stadium in Chester, Pa., on June 27.
“Sports are 100 percent a cultural thing,” Holloway said. “And you can only grow a culture through time. You can’t inject it. We just have to wait for the next generation of soccer players to grow up. When today’s youth players become parents, maybe their kids will become soccer players and soccer fans rather than focusing just on football and baseball.”
Check back next week for another great article.