Twelve seasons into the second great attempt to cram soccer down every Ugly American’s throat, Major League Soccer is no closer to the mainstream than Phyllis Schlafly.

Forget the supposed Big Three of football, basketball and baseball. Among niche sports, soccer still ranks behind auto racing, golf, tennis, hockey, figure skating, gymnastics, horse racing, boxing, swimming, bull riding, lacrosse, cycling, bowling, badminton, lawn darts, fly fishing and ballroom dancing (just ask Clyde Drexler).

Don’t shoot the messenger. The television numbers and financial figures are indisputable. Instead of telling me I’m an insufferable bastard, tell me why.

One of my blog buddies suggests that soccer isn’t popular because I don’t talk about it enough. “It baffles me why the media doesn’t give some props to soccer,” he writes. As if it is our sworn duty to forego writing about stuff that a majority of readers and spectators give a rip about and adopt the agenda of a chosen few.

Not to mention, that’s hogwash. Every paper and web site across the fruited plain afforded way too much coverage to the Los Angeles Galaxy’s desperation lease of David Beckham. OK, so what if part of the motivation was that it gave us an excuse to publish pictures of Posh in an evening gown? Sue us.

Soccer Nation also enjoys a willing dupe in Disney. Any time one of the corporation’s television tentacles has a vested interest in a sport, the volume of promotional coverage ascends through the roof. MLS gets as much lip service as the NHL on the ESPN family of networks.

Everybody told us the sport turned the corner in 1999, when the United States won the Women’s World Cup and Brandi Chastain felt compelled to show her 30A sports bra to the universe. That team’s date with destiny spawned a summer of disproportionate hype and the obligatory failed professional league. Lesson learned: Always wait until an entity’s 16th minute of fame to conduct your market survey.

Not that there’s a chance in Uruguay of it happening in this lifetime, but a U.S. run to the men’s final would deliver the same, fleeting ripple effect. Somebody would start a federation (assuming the MLS is bankrupt by then), and it, too, would go belly-up.

Like the metric system and Mr. Bean, soccer will never take hold in this country the way its splintered fan base covets. Two entire generations of children have undergone the immersion program in their schools and Saturday morning recreation leagues. They had fun playing. Heck, I’ve had fun watching them play during the fall season, because they’re representing their school and their town.

And with few exceptions, neither they nor I would watch a game on television if our lives depended on it.

We’re a fast food, instant gratification, want-it-yesterday nation without apology. Not counting the occasional drunken brawl at a Manchester United game, professional soccer can’t deliver.


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