The groups for the 2014 World Cup, to be held in Brazil, were announced Friday. The U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) drew Ghana, Germany, and Portugal, a group that will definitely be considered one of the most difficult to win next year. Given the good year the USMNT has had in qualifying, the publicity this group will receive, and the fact that my home of Atlanta, via Falcons owner Arthur Blank, seems to be on the cusp of earning an expansion team in Major League Soccer, I would like to submit 10 reasons why conservatives should love (or at least care about) professional soccer.
1. Promotion. The best teams from the “minor leagues” around the world get promoted to the top leagues every year. What’s more American than the idea that if you work hard and have success, you get rewarded for your efforts? This isn’t true in MLS (yet?), but it is the case in the top-flight leagues like the English Premiere League.
2. Relegation. The obvious corollary is that the worst teams get sent down to the “minors.” What we have in most U.S. sports is basically a bunch of sports leagues that operate as cartels. Late Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell said this more clearly about NFL owners: “‘we’re 32 Republicans who vote socialist.”
3. Don’t Tread On Me. Here is one of the unofficial symbols for U.S. Soccer. American star Clint Dempsey wore these personalized cleats a few years ago.
4. The little guys have a chance a lot of the time. Competition is wide open, much more so than in other sports. The U.S. Open Cup is an event that allows minor league clubs to play in a massive tournament against the top clubs. This year, two lower-level teams – the Orlando City Soccer Club (which has just been awarded an MLS franchise) and the Carolina Railhawks – made it to the quarterfinals.
5. 90 minutes then it’s over. It’s efficient. No TV timeouts. No brutal timeout war, as when the last 15 seconds of an NBA game takes half an hour to play out. No pointlessly icing the kicker. In soccer, it’s 45 minutes, some commercials at halftime, then 45 more minutes. The end. Sports are great, but three hours+ is a lot of time to invest in one game.
6. You take the ball; it’s not given to you. For everyone who complains that soccer is too nice: there are no “turns” in soccer. If you can win the ball, you get to keep it.
7. Hard work and patience lead to results. Usually (see #6). But not always. Part of the fun of watching soccer is the tension. Things can go well and your team can get really, really close and still not score. This is closer to real life. When a score does happen, you appreciate it more. Constant instant gratification is better? More American?
8. Concussions and the end of football. Last year economists Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier discussed how the seemingly-invincible NFL could eventually have some serious issues. Would it be that surprising to see soccer take off as we come to realize that football is inherently dangerous? I’m a football fan too (of an excellent team), so I take no joy in this, but I can easily see a scenario where more and more kids start playing soccer, the football youth pipeline starts to dry up, and soccer becomes a much bigger TV event.
9. FIFA penalties for steroids. FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, has established rules that require significant penalties for first time offenders. Yes FIFA is run by a questionable Swiss guy, but still. When you can pretty much keep doing steroids and denying doing steroids with impunity, play out season after season and continue to collect checks, it’s pretty clear that the way to get rid of steroids is to actually impose meaningful penalties.
10. We are America. According to General Patton, “Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser. Americans despise cowards. Americans play to win all of the time.” As coach Edwards said: You PLAY to WIN the GAME.
I could go on, from the chapel inside Barcelona’s stadium, to the fact that the World Cup is being held in Brazil, the site of what seems to have been a pretty good event this year. Our team is actually in a pretty good place and is improving, despite the tough draw. So, watch and support the USMNT and pick a pro team to pull for (sports always work better when you have a team. Here’s one guide. Go Spurs.). Conservatives should give the beautiful game a chance.