Foreign import

By By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

Last week, I participated in The Chronicle sports section’s Great Debate about pro soccer’s survivability in the United States. I took the viewpoint that Major League Soccer still has a tough road ahead of it — and that for a team such as Real Salt Lake to survive, Utah will need to experience a soccer revolution.

In poured the hate mail.

One online reader said my column made no sense. He said that U.S. soccer has already secured a firm foothold, and concluded his statement with, “You’ll understand one day when you actually open your eyes to more than your little corner of the world.”

Another said that my argument was so bad that he wouldn’t waste his time explaining to me why soccer would be one of the country’s three most popular sports “at the expense of either baseball or basketball” within the next 20 years.

What these folks don’t realize is that soccer is one of my favorite sports. In fact, I’m such a fan that I went to the World Cup in Germany last year and attended two matches — including USA/Ghana, the game in which America was eliminated from the tournament.

A few weeks ago, I was in Holland where the European Under-21 Championship was being held and I had the opportunity to witness a nil-nil draw between England and Czech Republic.

Trust me, I know how big soccer is around the world.

But I’ve also seen how soccer is regarded in is this country.

If you’ve ever listened to the Jim Rome Show or heard Sports Illustrated writer Frank DeFord go off on one of his anti-soccer tirades, you know how disrespected soccer is in the U.S.

But why do we have these attitudes? What keeps us from enjoying soccer like the rest of the world?

I think the USA’s soccer apathy can be linked to a few deeply ingrained beliefs that many Americans share.

Belief No. 1: If there is no scoring, then nothing is happening.

While the rest of the world might exit the stadium after a 0-0 draw believing the match was fraught with tension and drama, Americans often leave feeling gypped, like some sort of refund is in order.

Belief No. 2: There needs to be a winner and a loser.

Soccer, with its low-scoring nature, is prone to end in ties.

To Americans, a tie is like kissing your sister. We’d rather lose than leave the field of play without one side conquering the other.

Belief No. 3: We’d rather do our own thing.

Let’s face it — we’re culturally isolated. In other parts of the world, the 6 p.m. news offers a global perspective. In Utah, our local news features a laughably brief “World In a Minute” segment in which a guy who sounds like an auctioneer or the Micro Machines spokesman rattles off the world’s news in 60 seconds — probably without taking a breath. The focus immediately shifts back to domestic issues.

America is a world in itself. It’s an arrogant viewpoint, no doubt, but that’s exactly how we feel. Over the years, Americans have collectively said to the world, “Keep your silly cricket and boring soccer — we’ll make up our own sports.” This attitude ushered in what we Americans call the big three: football, baseball and basketball — all American-made.

Because of these beliefs — and the stubbornness that sustains them — pro soccer in America might survive as a niche sport, but it’ll never go mainstream.