Doran: The sport has arrived
when the United States hosted the World Cup.
The indicators: Major League Soccer's 10th season, World Cup qualifying with household names wearing red, white and blue, and most-importantly, America's marketing experts are using soccer to drive ad messages.
'Ten' is a lucky number for those of us who've battled the sports landscape trying to give soccer its rightful spot. In the '70s and '80s, we'd say "Just give soccer 10 more years and it'll be popular in America." Ironically the sport has turned the corner at the tenth season of Major League Soccer.
The league has added a nice dash of pomp and circumstance to its special year: a couple of new teams (showing stability through growth), a good-looking '10th Season' logo (How many times have you heard, "I had no idea it's been around that long?"), two new, soccer-specific stadiums in the next 12 months (thank you FC Dallas and Chicago) and most-importantly, MLS continues to provide young players the chance to play at the next level.
An important addition to the league's structure this year is the Reserve Division. Players not accruing 90 minutes of playing time with the first team square off the day after the league game -- mostly at secondary fields instead of the MLS stadium (for the Fire, it's the UIC facility).
The Crew vs. Fire Reserves match last weekend was spectacular. League rookies like Chad Barrett and Knox Cameron battled recuperating veterans like Tony Sanneh and Stephen Herdsman. It offered everything the MLS match provided (and more goals!) -- perfect for the players who need more games. As for the fans -- it's great soccer up-close and it's free!
Also coming to a field near you -- World Cup Qualifying. The rah-rah hasn't faded completely since the USA's successes in Korea in 2002, and as the faces of Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasely, Eddie Johnson and company become more prevalent in the media this summer, the fringe fan could find himself involved in the frenzy a lot sooner than the early rounds in Germany.
Don't discount the media, either. More highlights are showing up on the 'Plays of the Day' and soccer has become the sports cliché of the American family culture.
In late winter, 'Newsweek' did a cover story on the pressures of being a "super Mom." The woman on the cover was pictured juggling the components of family life -- including a soccer ball (as in soccer practices for the kids). It could've been a basketball, baseball or piano -- but it wasn't.
Car manufacturers are forever showing the ease with which kids can be delivered to soccer practices and McDonald's is running a fabulous ad promoting employment with young women playing soccer. A further testament to marketers' beliefs that soccer is a appropriate for general audiences -- these ads are running outside of soccer broadcasts.
Hollywood is in on the game too. Three soccer movies hit the big screen within nine months of each other, including 'The Game of Their Lives.'
The sport is turning the corner in our country. Though I don't pretend to know what's around that corner, I maintain that MLS and U.S. national team successes will fuel Madison Avenue's embrace of our sport and help share the soccer love.
Chris Doran is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com and the radio play-by-play and television sideline reporter for the Chicago Fireand the IU Hoosier soccer program. He welcomes your feedback at email@example.com.