Thursday, May 22, 2008

building the beautiful game.

(Joshua Masayoshi Huff)

Yesterday's Champions League final, contested by Manchester United and Chelsea, was amazing. In fact, the last four have been exceptional matches, even if the rounds preceding them are exercises in sterile soccer. Last year, we
had a goal fest and a near comeback from Liverpool almost as exquisite as their incredible victory in 2005--and Arsenal almost pulled out a victory in the 2006 final, even though they were down a man for 70 minutes.

I'm not going to talk about how I despise both teams who played in yesterday's match--because the game itself was incredible. Both teams opened up and had great chances--and the number of shots that went off the posts made for great dramatics.

ESPN college basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb said people who consider themselves American sports fans were foolish if they skipped watching yesterday's match, since it was on when nothing else was showing and was two of the world's greatest teams playing in the the world's biggest club soccer match. I couldn't agree more with him. It seems that all of ESPN's biggest names hate the game for no reason--Jim Rome, Scott van Pelt and Colin Cowherd talk so often about how much they hate the sport. I just don't understand how commentators at the world's leading sports conglomerate can hate the world's biggest and most relevant sport.

ESPN/ABC was smart to purchase the rights to the World Cup, Champions League and UEFA tournaments, because the biggest problem with soccer not catching on in the states is the lack of exposure. So many more people would watch the sport if they could see players of the highest caliber playing week-in, week-out. Judging on the conversations I have had based on my kits, I can tell more and more Americans are watching soccer. We can only build on MLS if the general soccer knowledge of Americans rises. I mean, baseball would not grow in England if they only showed English baseball, would it? It's like hoping a sport grows by showing third and fourth level leagues--it simply is not going to inspire kids to play or for people to pay for tickets.

To hear two of my friends who don't really care much about soccer talk about the game yesterday was huge for me--I got excited that they wanted to talk more about soccer afterwards.
And, to hear Michael Wilbon say that if he could go back and cover whatever beat he wished and hearing him say that he would cover international soccer, one has got to think that by continuing to show's the world's premiere players, leagues and cups, the game will only grow, and maybe the US will actually have a shot to win the World Cup by 2022.