The Great Soccer Divide

Since I left my career as an engineer in the pharmaceutical industry six years ago, I’ve been involved in a handful of projects and opportunities.

I’ve written a humor book, freelanced for a tech startup, launched (and shuttered) a business helping folks travel on frequent flyer miles, written an NFL preview guide, and started 3 podcasts. I’ve done a lot of things and have received a lot of feedback – some positive, some negative – on everything I’ve done.

But nothing, and I mean NOTHING that I’ve done has even come close to garnering as much feedback as this World Cup immersion project.

Everyone here in the United States seems to have an opinion about soccer, and they can’t wait to let me know what it is. I’m never had this type of experience with a project before, and honestly, I’ve never heard such passionate opinions about a sport before.

Football is still the most popular sport here in America. Basketball, specifically the NBA, is probably the fastest growing sport in popularity. Baseball is the most storied in tradition and history. Where does that leave soccer in America? Do we just group it together with hockey, tennis, golf, auto racing, and extreme sports as some kind of a second-tier, niche-only, pastime?

I don’t think we can do that.

Because soccer is the most popular sport in the world, and because Americans love to think we’re at the forefront of everything, it creates a dichotomy that one must create a narrative to explain. Either Americans are the only ones with good sense enough to realize soccer isn’t that great, or it’s the other way around, and we are the idiots incapable of embracing the beautiful game.

That’s what soccer is in America. Like black licorice, coconut desserts, and cilantro in your salsa, you either love it or hate it. It is THE most polarizing sport we have in the United States.

I’ve had this experience time and again over these last three weeks as EVERYBODY I’ve seen has wanted to talk to me about soccer. And in almost every instance, there has been very little nuance to the discussion.

Anytime I’m seen at the golf course, church, or the grocery store it’s, “Dude, what an amazing thing you’re doing with the World Cup!” or “Dude, how sick are you of soccer by now?”

People I haven’t talked to in a decade are reaching out to either tell me how lucky I am to be watching soccer all day or to tell me I’m crazy for wasting my time on the worst sport ever.

Friends of friends I don’t even know are sharing memes with me on Facebook celebrating beautiful goals or lampooning embarrassing flops.

Pastors from other states are reaching out to me to ask me if they can use my immersion project as a sermon illustration. (Okay, so maybe it was just one pastor, but still, this actually happened.)

It seems that here in America, you’ve got to pick a side when it comes to soccer. You can’t just casually follow the sport the way northerners casually follow college football. Maybe this will change over the next ten to twenty years, but whether it’s investing time into the MLS or waking up early on a Saturday morning to watch the Premier League, you have to seek out soccer to find it. And if not, you have to roll your eyes and make fun of it every time it comes up in conversation.

You might have already known this about soccer, but this has truly been a revelation for me. I never knew how many people out there loved soccer, and I certainly never knew how many people out there hated it.

As for me, this World Cup has forced me to plant my flag firmly in one camp. All the goals, the saves, the passes, the fouls, the great hair, the injuries, the injury time, and the embarrassing flops have made me more sure than ever about the side I am on.

But unlike everyone else in America, I’m going to do something completely different and NOT tell you how I feel about the game. Not yet anyway.

We’ll save that for next week.

In the meantime, there’s only a few World Cup games left before we crown a champion so enjoy the games and savor this last week of the World Cup until 2022!

Or don’t enjoy the games and make fun of them to anyone within earshot!

It’s either one or the other.

“We didn’t underestimate them. They were a lot better than we thought.”

Sir Bobby Robson

Bryan Allain has spent 41 years of his life ignoring soccer in favor of the Red Sox and golf, the REAL beautiful game. (His words not ours). This is the account of his 30-day, all in, deep dive on the premier showcase of the most popular sport on earth, the 2018 World Cup.