By J Hutcherson - USSoccerPlayers (February 27, 2007) — If there’s a standard concern among any retiring player, it’s how the game will remember them. Even the elite sometimes wonder if they’ll be remembered at all, triumphs in their time reduced to relatively mundane memories years removed and ultimately stored away. It happens in all sports, but the collective memory of American soccer has always been fragile and fragmented.
We exist in a soccer culture that can forget entire leagues, much less the members of the teams that played in them.
No American soccer fan needs to have the lack of coherency explained. Multiple leagues and structures end up unfocused, the stories susceptible to the kind of gradual erosion that leaves them too linear and often times suspect. Attempts at reconstruction end up impressive only to the true believers, with the rest of the audience wondering exactly why we’re supposed to care.
It’s a fair point. Clubs fade along with their players. Remember the Wings, the Quicksilvers, the Foxes, the Roughnecks? Sure, there was that game … but the structure for the story is lacking.
Instead, we get an amalgam that turns a story into, at best, a myth and, at worst, a fabrication. Yep, I remember … Only it wasn’t that season, much less that day, and you got the city wrong.
There is so much to remember. So many clubs, players, tournaments. The players themselves might have an almost encyclopedic recall that borders on scary, but the rest of us usually have more of a sense of scene if anything. Even that gets easily confused.
Repository thinking has its own fans and limitations, putting what we can fairly categorize as trivia before the story.
That can reap a kind of dismissive acknowledgment from fans as well as those within the game. Sure, we all recognize American soccer has tradition. But it’s a new day where the past isn’t going to help us figure out global sponsorship markets, stadium construction, and the contemporary transfer system. At least that’s what those actively forming the future of American pro soccer occasionally deign to tell us.
In many ways, it’s a fair point. Induction ceremonies have become feel good events that capsulate eras in the experiences of a handful of players, the elite of the elite. By default, that’s an exercise in marginalizing. Even slightly removed, and the broader story becomes more about getting at the main, and hopefully short, point. The museum exhibit ideal of history.
Our game moves on. Pay tacit acknowledgment to the past but work to press forward towards a promotional future. One that doesn’t necessarily need a historical foundation for legitimacy.
Tradition can be built. We’ve seen just that repeated multiple times. Carting it over wholesale with the International Soccer League in the early ’60s, through the regenerative efforts the North American Soccer League used every third or fourth season, and up to Major League Soccer, which set all of that aside over a decade ago. In the end, tradition only really matters as a profit motive.
Nobody should reasonably argue that profit margin shouldn’t be at the heart of the American professional game. Soccer clubs aren’t civic trusts, existing for the good of the community and funded through that mentality. To some, neither are Hall of Fames nor museums outside of those with endowments paying operating costs.
The North American Soccer League setup shop in 40 markets. Add in the Major Indoor Soccer League, and that number increases to just about any city of size you can name. All stories, all connecting a group of fans to the tradition that creates contemporary American soccer. Few if any of them offer enough monetary justification for telling their stories.
So we move to what story we’re interested in hearing. If it’s the highlight-reel version of American soccer history, we have that in a building off an interstate in New York. If it’s the struggle of American professional soccer clubs and players trying to make it work, tied to place and fans, then there’s an alternative history of attempted markets, overlooked teams, and the stories that don’t necessarily include the usual names.
In a world of adults there’s no sense in pretending that right intention will or even should win the day. But before we let entire leagues pass on with a limited memorial and good intentions, it might be worth considering real preservation.
We have the history of a game that has set up shop everywhere from the biggest stadiums in the country, to some of the most obscure arenas, always trying to find its place.
We also have a National Soccer Hall of Fame pressured to show a profit rather than what should be a clear mandate on behalf of the clubs and players that have gone before: serve as the permanent and supported home of the full history of American soccer. It’s time professional soccer allows the Hall to do that job.
J Hutcherson has been writing for USSoccerPlayers.com since 2002. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org