Philly Sports Live

Thanksgiving, US Soccer Style

It’s the time of year when we are expected to recognize what we’re truly thankful for, and after an eventful year in US soccer, we at the Philly Sports Live soccer desk have a lot of reasons to give thanks.  These are our top five.

Bob Bradley

(And no, not because he’s Michael’s dad, though…good work there Bob.)

Bob Bradley was a highly successful college and professional coach, and with the passage of time, his four and a half years in charge of the national team will rightfully be regarded as one of the most successful tenures in its’ almost 100 year history.  He was never a colorful guy, never had a good quote or was entertaining on the sidelines, but he was and is a man of great honesty, character, discipline, and he won.  Following his dismissal in August of 2011, he moved on to take up the head coaching responsibilities for Egypt, one of only four Americans to coach a national team other than their own.  It’s strange to think that a man so closely associated with American soccer may have found the definitive moment of his career half a world away, but when Egypt was rocked by revolution, and protesters were being attacked on the streets, Bob was there, standing in a candle light vigil, mourning the death of innocents.  When the Egyptian Football Federation suspended operations after a deadly riot during a game, likely instigated by political forces, it was Bob who held the national team together, keeping players from retiring out of fear for their lives, training a team whose league was on the verge of being dissolved and encouraging players who had to finish their season in empty stadiums.  Every facet of life in Egypt is in constant flux, and there’s no American I would rather have there as a symbol of what my country stands for than Bob Bradley.

The Free Beer Movement

MLS averages higher attendance than the NBA.  NBC has purchased the broadcast rights to the EPL, and built an entire sports network anchored around MLS.  My local pub has gotten so crowded on Saturday mornings that I’ve taken to watching non-essential matches at home.  Lionel Messi is the second most popular athlete in the country.  This is massive progress, but don’t mistake it for victory.  Soccer is still a niche sport in the US, and every fan is more missionary than consumer.  That’s where the Free Beer Movement comes in.  The idea is simple: Grow the game one drink at a time. Take a friend who doesn’t follow soccer to a bar, buy them a beer, watch a match.  Bring some friends and some beers to a tailgate before the match.  The whole approach is founded on a simple principle we can all agree is true, people like beer, and once they sit down and watch it, people will like soccer. It works, its fun, and if your friend doesn’t latch on to the beautiful game, at least you had a beer.  Frankie Hejduk would approve.

Columbus, Ohio

The map of international soccer is almost medieval, marked as it is by cathedrals in every major country.  Their walls have an aura, a mystique born of the epic matches, the brilliant performances, the magic of the game.   Their names become shorthand for entire countries, cultures, epochs.  Wembly.  Azteca.  San Siro, Camp Nou, Columbus.  That’s right, Columbus.  Crew Stadium may not even be the biggest stadium in its’ own city, and it lacks the mythic character of even the Office in Kingston or Mateo Flores in Guatemala, but there is simply no better place to experience a US National team match than in the house that Lamar built.  The record speaks for itself; in nine matches the US has never lost, and has given up only a single goal.  Crew Stadium has such a reputation in CONCACAF, that the Mexican Federation seriously considered moving their 2013 match against the US out of Azteca in exchange for the return leg not being played in Columbus.  It may eventually get superseded by Livestong Sporting Park as the defacto home stadium, but the memories of the frozen hurricane dos a cero, or the flag-draped September 11th win to lock hex qualification will never fade.  Every American fan needs to make it out to Ft. Lamar Hunt at least once for a match.

The United States Military

Besides the obvious reasons to honor our troops, does any National Federation have as effective a recruiting arm?  The US is close to being able to field an entire team of quality players born in Deutschland but eligible to wear the stars and stripes because of military parents.  Thomas Dooley may have been the first national teamer with a serviceman father to come out of Germany, but Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler, & Terrence Boyd have all contributed in a major way to the USMNT in the past year, and maybe the best of the lot, John Anthony Brooks, a 6’6 center back with the feet of a midfielder is on the horizon.  The Cold War may have been a time of great fear and trepidation as two mighty empires faced off with the threat of nuclear holocaust hanging in the balance, but it also may have laid the ground for a golden age of US soccer.

American Soccer Now & The Best Soccer Show

While soccer is growing rapidly in this country, its most difficult battle remains gaining acceptance within mainstream sports media.  National networks are starting to come around, but local sports shows and sports talk radio remain the preserve of cliché-spouting dinosaurs who  still decry the beautiful game, when they deign to talk about it all as a commie/wussy sport where Europeans dive at the slightest contact and matches end in ties.  The positive side to all of this has been the development over the years of a vibrant subculture of US soccer media generated by and for fans.  The two high points by far are American Soccer Now, a revolutionary website created and run by John Godfrey, and The Best Soccer Show, the anchor program of NASN, hosted by Jason Davis & Jared duBois.

ASN goes beyond the run of the mill soccer site by not just producing exceptional soccer content, but connecting USMNT fans, players, executives and media together.  Their ASN 100, a constantly updating list of the top 100 US eligible players is not only definitive, but can be manipulated in seemingly endless ways to rank players based on a number of criteria, including the traditional (caps, goals) and non (twitter followers).  Their starting 11 tool lets users compare their preferred lineups with announcers, coaches, executives and bloggers.  Less than two months old, the site is the gold standard for US soccer on the internet.

The Best Soccer Show just celebrated its first anniversary, but it’s hosts, formerly of The American Soccer Show, were already well known in US Soccer circles.  Their show, by turns entertaining and informative was simply the best of a crowded pool of podcasts when they began doing live shows before during and following each US national team qualifier.  These broadcasts are every US soccer fans dream, with informed commentary, great guests and live call-in segments, filling the niche left vacant by sports talk radios’ borderline ignorance of soccer.  Jason and Jared are literally doing Zolo’s work.

So that’s our list.  What are you thankful for in US soccer?  Let us know in the comments, and from all of us at PSL’s soccer desk, Happy Thanksgiving.