By Charles Boehm – WASHINGTON, DC (Nov 22, 2012) US Soccer Players — The media in this country is routinely perceived as pessimistic, cynical and sensationalistic, and its rapidly-growing ranks of soccer journalists are no exception. Interest and expectation grows along with the game’s profile. With it, comes competition for web traffic and breaking news stories. The collective tone becomes more aggressive, shrill and to some, reflexively critical.
So I’m particularly delighted to take a step back from my usual attempts at insight and analysis this week, and dive into the seasonal mood by giving thanks for the tremendous advances I’ve seen in US soccer since I first kicked a ball nearly three decades ago.
I’m thankful for LEADERS.
Those running the game can be easy targets for critics and frustrated fans. The inner workings can be opaque, some decisions are prone to second-guessing and, fairly or not, the behind-the-scenes politics at Soccer House in Chicago are the stuff of legends. Over the years many smart, dedicated people within US Soccer have helped harness the sport’s potential across this country, constantly looking to improve our player development system, turning generations of youth players into passionate fans, and elevating our National Teams on the world scene. The same is true for those at Major League Soccer, the United Soccer Leagues, US Youth Soccer and many other entities.
I’m thankful for HEROES.
Speaking of the National Team, one of my nephews is a high school student in Northern Virginia who has grown up in a soccer culture that I could only have dreamed of in my younger days. Dozens of pro, college and international games from all over the continent and the entire planet are at his fingertips when turns on the TV. The club scene presents him and kids of his age with numerous opportunities to play at a variety of intensity and ability levels.
Perhaps most influentially of all, he can find a range of role models in his country’s large, dynamic professional league and ambitious National Teams. That means examples to follow and heroics to dream about – dreams that include not just reaching the World Cup, but maybe even winning the whole thing.
I’m thankful for PRIDE.
I should also note that my nephew’s love of a sport once branded “foreign” doesn’t expose him to slurs or mocking from his peers which was all too common not so long ago. It wasn’t that long ago when a prominent elected official stood up to address his peers in the US House of Representatives and denigrated soccer as “a European socialist sport.” Today, few candidates for elected office would dare risk alienating the enormous swathes of the population who watch or play the game, or take their children to do the same. To put it in more positive terms, this game lives deep within the hearts of many millions of people from all walks of life, and they’re proud to wear it on their sleeves, car bumpers and Facebook pages.
I’m thankful for RESOURCES.
I know how much it can cost: game tickets, authentic jerseys, club and league fees, boots and equipment… and the list goes on. Soccer in the United States is big business, even in ways that it probably shouldn’t be.
Collectively, little by little, we’re getting smarter about how to use all that economic activity for the greater good of the game. MLS seems to have discovered a stable, sustainable business plan. There are promising signs of more effective structures on the youth scene and communication tools like social media make it easier for all of us to connect and cooperate. Today, when you support the senior national teams with your hard-earned disposable income, you are also guiding resources towards worthy grassroots projects like Paralympic Soccer, US Futsal and the Development Academy.
I’m thankful for YOU.
For decades, millions upon millions of American children played the game, yet too many of them never managed to fall in love with it or even care about it, moving on to other sports as they got older. A generational and demographic shift has changed this state of affairs. Now there’s a broad audience eager not just to play soccer, but to watch, read and engage about it, on this site and many others. Thank you, and happy Thanksgiving.
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