When I edited Seattle Weekly, I issued a ban on soccer coverage. Why edit a newspaper when you can't, very occasionally, act like a tin-pot dictator and shape it to your perverse desires? I left the paper two years ago but hoped the new editor would realize my no-soccer edict was a lifetime ban. Apparently not. There's a new dictator in town, and the moratorium has been lifted. The editor himself has written a column about soccer in Seattle. The good news: He's not buying the hype that it's the next big thing.
That editor is my former colleague and friend, Mark Fefer, a true soccer aficionado, and he's been writing a great column called "The MF Truth," which should appear more frequently and undoubtedly would if he weren't having to personally count "Best of Seattle" ballots voting Pagliacci Pizza as best in town for the umpteenth year. Mark is a soccer nut, but I love him anyway. However, he sees the so-called soccer boom in Seattle with a properly jaundiced eye, or, as he writes, "soccer seems to experience an exciting new surge in popularity about as often as Tacoma has a renaissance." Which means every couple of years someone predicts the sport will finally break out and gain new popularity in the old USA.
To me, this is like Romans rooting for the barbarians: Why would we welcome such an invasion? One of America's charms is its stubborn resistance to such globalism: foreign football, the metric system, Esperanto. But Seattle is the kind of "world city" that revels in covering itself in the trappings of foreign sophistication, and now the apparent proliferation of soccer on barroom TVs and the fact that we have a major league soccer franchise is giving fans hope that this "renaissance" will finally do be the one.
You'd think Fefer would be on the bandwagon, but he's strictly a "show-me" guy when it comes to soccer making its big breakthrough. One of the big problems? American professional soccer just isn't up to snuff:
[T]he quality of play in MLS is just too weak. When an MLS highlight reel occasionally turned up during broadcasts of Euro 2008, it was like seeing a WNBA game suddenly break out during halftime at the NBA finals (sorry, ladies). I love soccer, and even I find MLS games boring. The best players in the game simply don't play here–until they're washed up, like Beckham.
The magic of the 1970s Sounders was unique to that time–a time before the Mariners and Seahawks–and is no more going to be recaptured than Fremont is going to become "quirky" again. Sure, soccer promoters can pack Qwest Field for exhibition games by bringing the circus to town, in the form of Manchester United or the Mexican and Brazilian national teams. But the soccer "boom" in America, which was already supposed to have arrived at least a dozen times over the past 20 years, isn't coming on any faster now than the metric system.
I previously have tried to sort out just why soccer hasn't caught on in America, and there are some interesting academic theories about it. But I must say I am thrilled to know that at least one local soccer maven thinks that the bulwark against foreign football still stands strong. Me, I think Seattle is brimming with "world citizens" who would rather have a second-rate Euro-thrill than a genuine American one, but I would be happy to be proved wrong.