I’ve been stewing for almost a week now. Really stewing. You see, over the past few years I’ve become a soccer guy. I was a late convert in life, but once I jumped on the bandwagon, I’ve gotten closer and closer to steering the thing.
For me, it’s become a life’s mission to convince Americans that soccer is a sport worth investing in. I’ll go door to door if I have to. (OK, no I won’t … but I’ll write at least five columns imploring you to catch the fever.)
So when the Americans fell to Ghana in the Round of 16 at the World Cup, I was furious. Furious because Bob Bradley’s side had an incredible wave of momentum going, and the loss ensures that that wave will die quietly against the NFL seawall. Furious because Bradley inexplicably started Ricardo Clark and Robbie Findley despite the fact that neither has ever played soccer before (or so it seemed). Furious because a sport I love was so close to national recognition but is now destined to go the way of Slamball.
But then it hit me. This doesn’t have to be the end of American soccer for the next four years. We still have a shot at saving the sport in this country and capitalizing on the national soccer mojo Landon Donovan et. al. stirred up during their valiant World Cup run.
By buying an English Premier League team, moving it to New York City, and calling it … wait for it …
The English Premier League, while arguably at a competitive high, has been decimated by the current worldwide financial crisis. Portsmouth was put up for sale on Ebay, Liverpool and West Ham are reporting record losses and even the great Manchester United is running at a deficit.
A new group of owners – a capable group of owners (hopefully led by me), needs to go to the league, offer it big money for a top-flight team and incentivize it to make the jump across the pond with added TV money in the US market. You don’t think ESPN and/or FOX would love such an idea? I’d like to think the English Premier League would too – you’re telling me the EPL wouldn’t jump at the chance to go international in a whole new way?
Of course it would.
But, we Americans would never care about soccer enough to support a U.S. squad …
The U.S.-Ghana game drew almost 20 million viewers. 20 million! Even if a fraction of those viewers enjoyed the World Cup enough to give the sport a chance, we’re onto something.
States United. The team would go after some of Team USA’s best players, but it would also be made up of a competitive mix of international talent. And most importantly, its kit (uniform for you Yankeee folk) would have “USA” emblazoned across the chest.
This can work. It’s a five-hour flight. No different than a trip from New York to L.A.
For a long time, we’ve been of the impression that in order for U.S. soccer to take off, we needed a U.S.-born international superstar to take the soccer world by storm.
Guess what? That’s 100 percent wrong.
We don’t need a U.S.-born superstar … we just need a team to root for. We need a side that goes out there with the red, white and blue on its sleeve and battles the world’s best with heart and determination.
It doesn’t matter where the players are from. Do fans in Dallas care that Dirk is from Germany? Do New England fans root for Tom Brady less because he grew up outside of San Francisco? Are Phillies fans somehow less bummed about Chase Utley’s thumb because he’s from Pasadena?
This is America. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. It matters what you represent.
States United would be representing the New World against the Old World’s best. A U.S. Premier League team would give the entire country a top-flight club to watch and root for week after week. Just imagine the added attention it would garner if it qualified for the Champions League.
That’s exactly what this country needs to get behind soccer.
Because while I like MLS, and though MLS has made strides, it has only one-half of the equation right. MLS tries to give U.S. fans something to root for, but it fails to give Americans bragging rights in a top-flight league. For the U.S. to get on board, it needs a world-class team to root for.
The U.S. Men’s National team gave that to us for three weeks. States United can give that to us forever.
Email me at email@example.com; follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/leerussakoff.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.