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Alive, but barely kicking
Jaime Diaz
October 27, 1986
Despite rosy predictions, soccer has yet to win the hearts of Americans
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October 27, 1986

Alive, But Barely Kicking

Despite rosy predictions, soccer has yet to win the hearts of Americans

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Caligiuri, a senior at UCLA, is a stopper who, along with John Kerr Jr. of Duke, is the co-favorite for the Hermann Award, soccer's version of the Heisman. He is also the only American to be picked and to play, and to impress, at the FIFA all-star game following the '86 World Cup.

While Caligiuri does not rule out joining an indoor soccer team after graduation, he is likely to go to Europe to play outdoors for a second division club, a route taken by last season's Hermann Award winner, Tom Kane of Duke. "Right now, it's the Dark Ages for guys like me," says Caligiuri. "My dream is to play for the national team. But America is not always going to be without an outdoor league."

Others disagree. For one thing, soccer is no longer a huge success even in countries where its tradition runs deepest. In Brazil, which, along with Italy, is a three-time winner of the World Cup, corruption and scandal have caused an appreciable decline in the popularity of soccer. In England, fan hooliganism, an enfeebled economy and political moves that have placed less emphasis on competitive sports in schools are undermining interest in the game. In most other European countries the sport's popularity is also threatened, and teams are taking huge losses. Even in Argentina crowds for first division—major league—games barely average 10,000. So it should come as no great shock that soccer, as a spectator sport, has failed to become a hit with the American public.

Shep Messing, who played for the Cosmos before joining the MISL and who is currently a co-owner and president of the Express, says, "I don't believe outdoor soccer will ever make it [in the U.S.] professionally. I don't believe we will ever succeed at the Olympic or World Cup level. Americans just don't buy the sport." Messing adds enigmatically, "Don't get me wrong. I think outdoor soccer is the greatest game in the world. There's no better sport for kids to play."

Maybe that's the problem. A lot of Americans like soccer, but few have shown the passion for the game that has gripped the rest of the world. Says the impassioned Rovic, "For me soccer is love, love, love. In America, you have the best sport. You have the fun. But you don't have this love."

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