Let's get right to it. According to US Youth Soccer, more than 3M kids in the US played organized soccer in 2010. That's about as many people as the entire population of Uruguay- which finished fourth at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Today mark's the first of our daily attempts to give you an incredible, socially informative, culturally impactful fact about the game of soccer, each day from now until the launch of World Cup 2014 on June 12 in Brazil.
Have an awesome nugget of soccer culture to share? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org It can be about youth, college, club or national soccer...historic perspective, present-day players, coaches, lifestyle, languages or whatever.
From 1914-1928, FIFA regarded the Olympic soccer tournament as the world's amateur soccer championship. But the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles would not feature soccer, so FIFA, under president Jules Rimet of France, decided to host the inaugural 1930 World Cup in Uruguay, selected as reigning champions from the 1928 Summer Games. With 13 European and North and South American nations convinced to foot the travel bill to Uruguay, the hosts defeating Argentina 4-2 on July 30, 1930 at Estadio Centenario in in Montevideo.
Much has changed on the pitch since FCearth first attempted to capture soccer as a sporting reflection of global culture and passion, during our quiet launch in 2008.
Gobs of of quality books, blogs, pundits and programs have emerged to offer colorful, comprehensive, data-driven, or anecdotal (and cable-viewable, assuming an away-game) account of the game, at all levels, beyond the final score.
While Spain has achieved total domination at the club and national levels, a Portuguese has emerged as the Edison of international soccer - only to be trumped, usually, by a 25-year-old Argentinian Einstein of the pitch.
One former coach of the US National Team - a Serbian who has taken four other countries (Mexico, Costa Rica, Nigeria, China) to the World Cup- is an ambassador in Qatar, the tiny, loaded Middle Eastern nation that somehow won the right to host the 2022 World Cup. The other former US coach is now leading Egypt...and participating in organized demonstrations for peace in that country.
The next World Cup launches in the explosively-growing Latin American nation of Brazil in 450 days, promising to unite 736 players officially representing 32 nations- but actually born in far more.
In the US, Major League Soccer's attendance and social momentum- owing largely to regional fanatics such as those of you in the Northwest- has sort of come to symbolize soccer's growing influence, or at least stability, and place in the hierarchy of American sports- although you'd never know it by the continuously dim-witted comments of some leaders.
And more importantly, a generation of early adopters who grew up playing on the generous, increasingly well-organized youth soccer fields of America in the 70s and 80s have become commentators, coaches, clinical and youth directors, and parents. Their (our) players and kids consume the sport more vociferously than ever: indoor, at weeknight clinics or tournaments in Texas, clad in Messi replicas or expensive club kits, or simply with a battered ball on the playground or in a barren back alley.
It may be mostly intangible but it is undeniably happening.
Yet in many ways, nothing has changed at all. Soccer still transcends languages, borders and cultures more totally than almost any human activity - at least any that inspires tears of anguish, swells of national/club/neighborhood pride.
Since millions of American youth- on top of hundreds of millions internationally- play and consume the sport, it continues to offer an unbelievable reflection on the confluence of world cultures. Nowhere else - from the pitches of working class London neighborhoods to the splashy temporary stadia of South African World Cup venues, from the shuttered academies of suburban Cleveland to the thriving ones of Bradenton or Carson- do classes and languages and cultures and lifestyles clash not only to camp and train together, but to compete in the same jersey, whether for the short run of a tournament or the duration of a youth club..
Heavy stuff, especially if you've awoken at 6:30am to watch Premiership matches, now playing on ESPN2? No problem; give it some time. We're back to help tell the story of how soccer brings people together. With the World Cup set to launch in just 450 days, we've got plenty of stories to tell. Stay tuned!
Plat Soccer, Change the World.
One of the better-written stories about new USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinnsman's deliberate effort to create an onfield identity for the US Men's National Team that somehow matches the culture of the United States of America, by Brian Straus of AOL Sporting News.
The money quote by Klinnsman:
“One of my challenges will be to find a way to define how a U.S. team should represent its country. What should be the style of play? Is it more proactive and aggressive, a forward-thinking style of play? Or is it more reacting style of play,” Klinsmann asked shortly after his appointment.
My initial thought: isn't it ambitious, or even wacky, to think you can change a national team's style of play to reflect the mentality of a country? Even if you have a year or so to do it, before the games start to (really, really) count again?
The answer: no. Coaching a national team has some factors - time, friendlies, pools of players that occasionally get together for minicamps and a relatively small number of games per year - and one key mechanism that actually do make this possible.
Guest Post: Aaron Young
With some of the biggest professional soccer leagues in the world finalizing their squads this week, it got me wondering about how this frentic marketplace effects the average fan and supporter. Let me explain, this is what many English pundits call "silly season." Unlike most American professional sports where trades and salary caps regulate a teams personnel, soccer is dominated by transfer markets, where clubs buy and sell the contracts of a player at what is deemed fair market value for the player's services. Often time the media and fan base can have a large influence on who goes where or the terms of the deal.
This brings me to my point: why do we care? Are we so invested in a sport and their stars that our sole focus throughout the "silly season" is on the market? Do we really become the Wall Street traders of soccer? Yes and no. Fans and supporters do keep a close eye on "commodity trading," but more so the everyday fan and supporter care about the club and the promise for something better. Each year we all believe our club will win it all. Few actually do. Barcelona FC has recently become the exception to the rule having won every title it competes in. The reality is that putting our faith and hopes into clubs is much like the ambition to have a better life we all strive for. And through our obession of following transfers we somehow feel more in control over our own situation. While Americans have the opportunity reflected by the pursuit of the American dream, the rest of the world can see it in their soccer club's push for success; and it's during the transfer season when this becomes most transparent to each of us.
Editor's Note: I believe there is a third-level answer to "Why do we care (about silly season)?" that, as Aaron suggests, goes beyond obsession with our favorite clubs, and fascination with the trading of players as commodities. The most intrinsic factor that compels us to football transfers might be that there is no cultural parallel for it in any other sport, labor market or maybe even sociology. The idea, for example, of a 30 year old Cameroonian being sold by a global powerhouse Italian club for a reported 28M Euros to an obscure Russian club that commutes by plane to its own home games from the safer confines of suburban Moscow...it's so culturally mind-boggling that it at least adds a layer of complexity to our annual obsession with the transfer window.