Sept. 21, 2019 — “Okay, I have a comment on this one,” Siuslaw School District’s Assistant JV Soccer coach Nyra Campbell said. She was discussing American’s views on soccer along with Siuslaw’s head coach, Londi Tomaro.
The anti-soccer backlash in America has been strong for decades. A quick websearch of the phrase “Why is soccer so boring” gets thousands of results, including National Review article titled “Against Soccer: Hyper-regulated, low scoring, boring to watch.”
Voting website “The Top Tens” listed soccer as the third-most boring sport in the world, just below baseball and golf — but more interesting than cricket, curling and gardening.
Cambpell had something to say about these sentiments.
“I can’t tell you who the biggest star is at all in Europe right now,” she said, admitting that she’s not a fervent watcher. “But I will play a pickup game with anyone, anytime, anywhere because I love it. A friend from work disdains watching soccer. I said you don’t have to watch it — but play it. It’s tons of fun to play.”
And it’s through playing the game that a person can gain a real appreciation for what is going on, even if it ends in a 0-0 tie.
“The score does not reflect the pace of the game,” Tomaro said. “You’re constantly moving the ball, running here, running there. The other team is constantly trying to get the ball from you.
People are always running. Whether the ball goes in the goal or not, it really has nothing to do with how fast the game is moving.”
So why does soccer get such a bad rap?
“I think that people just like to see the score go up really high,” Tomaro said. “But if you played it, you know. Three or four goals like we had last week, when it was four to three, that was a lot of scoring.”
Campbell added, “You have to keep in mind, three or four points, that’s a keeper letting a few by. There were probably 27 shots at getting a goal. Every missed shot is just as exciting as a goal. You’re biting your nails, watching attempts over and over again. It’s a gripping game.”
Tomaro said she loved to watch a good play unfold on the field.
“You see it coming,” she said. “That person is moving here, that person is moving there. Now they pass the ball, now they dribbled around that person. Oh, they just missed the goal! The whole play up to that is amazing. For me, that’s what I love to see. When people are just scoring goals left and right, but they’re not making good plays, to me, that’s a boring game.”
“I think this could be simplified and boiled down to is, ‘What are you excited about and interested in?’ To be honest, I’ve never understood how football works. You’re going one direction, and then another. That’s all I know about it. I think what it boils down to is what do you know really well? What did you grow up with? What was your love in life, and therefore what do you enjoy?”
The first thing to know about soccer is that it’s not a lazy game, according to Campbell.
“It’s a fast paced, on your feet, fast thinking, multitasking game, and I’m addicted to multitasking. Soccer is a perfect outlet for me, or for anyone that likes that rapid-fire thought process. You have to know where you are on the field, what’s happening when you’re going forward or going backwards. You always have to be ten moves ahead on where the ball is going to go. For me, that’s where the love comes from.”
A lot is said about the games low scoring, but in actuality, the score isn’t the victory. There’s a ton of small victories strewn throughout the running time.
“I made my move, I got around that person, I could tell what they were going to do and I stole the ball from them, I made a great pass, I made a great run. There are hundreds of little victories throughout the game. No matter what the score is at the end, there’s always something to get excited about. I think that’s part of the joy of it. We made some errors, but we did all these things throughout the game that we can be really proud of.”
Soccer is gaining popularity in America. In April, Forbes cited a 2018 Gallup poll that showed 7 percent of Americans viewed soccer as their favorite sport to watch, compared to 9 percent for baseball.
And American’s attending games is also rising, with Forbes reporting that Major League Soccer’s average attendance was 21,358 from 2013-18, just behind France (21,556) and Italy (22,967). Some teams, such as Atlanta United, are boasting averages of 51,547.
“There are places where soccer is huge in the US,” Tomaro said. “When I was growing up, soccer was gaining traction in my hometown, and our high school team started the year I was a freshman. It just comes to different places at different times. I think it’s definitely growing in the United States and in some places it’s really big. It’s not the main sport as in other places, but that’s okay. Everybody has the sport that they love, and everybody has the option for what they love to do. I think that’s fantastic.”
Campbell was more bullish on soccer’s popularity.
“I think it’s already huge, personally,” she said. “Where I grew up, just as many people went out for soccer as they did for football. I think the smaller towns are more like small town America and still rooted in football. And that’s just how things lie. When I moved to Florence 20 years ago, there was no mention of soccer. And that’s awesome — that’s totally American culture. But I think as cultures get together and move in and populations increase, people bring with them to the town they move to the things that they love.”
Internationally, soccer is the common language between sports fans.
“You don’t have to be tall, you don’t have to have huge muscles,” Tomaro said. “You don’t have to be able to speak the same language. You don’t have to be from the same place. It just brings people together.”
She recalled a time in college went she went to East Africa. She played soccer with elementary aged school children in Kenya.
“They were super impressed to see a grown-up woman playing soccer. To me, it crosses boundaries and brings people together,” she recalled.
Stateside, as international cultures begin to take root, so to do the games that these cultures bring with them. And if there’s one international sport they’ll bring, it’s soccer.
“But I think that would be an oversimplified answer to soccer’s popularity,” Tomaro said. “I don’t think you can say it’s because these kids have an Asian background, or a Hispanic background. I don’t think that’s where the love of soccer comes from. Maybe that’s how they’re exposed to it at first, but I don’t think that’s where the love of it comes from.”
The key to soccer’s popularity may come in its simplicity. Basketball needs a hoop, tennis needs a net but soccer?
“Any number of people can come together with a soccer ball and a couple of pairs of shoes and enjoy playing together at the park any time,” said Tomaro. “It’s something that you can always have. Any time you go to the park, someone has a soccer ball. And you can just join in. It’s not something you have to have a whole lot of equipment and people to make a game work and have fun.”
That’s how many American kids were exposed to the sport — a quick pickup game at recess in elementary school without all the prep. But in middle school, interest in soccer can wane. Campbell believes this is an institutional issue.
“You have kids that are playing in elementary school and loving it,” she said. “But as you become a middle schooler knowing you’re going into high school, whether it’s parent encouragement or your own thought process, you think, ‘Oh, well, I’m going to be in high school and these are the sports that are offered. In middle school, I better be getting prepared for a high school sport.’ That’s where the drop-off is happening.”
But the interest isn’t dropping off, as the numbers of the Siuslaw Youth Soccer Association show. Each season finds around 200 kids signing up to play, which lead to the creation of the pilot JV program at the Siuslaw School District. And that is an important step to keeping kids involved with athletics, Tomaro explained.
“Some kids only play soccer. If we don’t have a soccer team, they’re not going to be a high school athlete. They may be a really good athlete, but they don’t have an opportunity to represent their school,” she said.
And if they don’t have an opportunity to represent, they can have less ownership of their school.
“This is my personal opinion, but when kids have a chance to compete for their school, it’s more meaningful than just going and taking classes, which is also important,” Tomaro said. “To be able to step out on a field and say ‘I’m representing my school, I’m competing in the name of my school.’”
And that’s what makes soccer, and all sports, special to those who love it.
“I think it’s just being in a sport that you all love and enjoy playing together,” Campbell said. “Just like somebody that would be on a baseball team or a track team. You make friends and if you love that together, and you play that one thing together, representing where you’re from, then you just build a bond through that.”