Chelsea vs. Inter Milan's contest at Lucas Oil Stadium: Brilliant Strategic Move or Potential Bust?
Many are those who wonder loudly whether the game of soccer would ever take complete root in the US. And by virtue of that question, I understand them to ask simply whether soccer will ever fare well amongst its rival sports or arguably whether it could compete against them. The question rather should be whether it can coexist as an authentic American pastime.
A while back I watched with great dismay and complete terror an episode on ESPN called “Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos” on how tremendous effort and massive investment made in the late 70’s to bring Pele, the king of soccer, to the US to help develop the game, create a fan base and to infuse the passion seen elsewhere in the world into the US fans had miserably failed.
I was astounded by the level of success owners and investors had been able to reach during the peak of the NASL championship in the 70’s. The game, for the first time, had reached tremendous height in popularity. Pele as the sole and best ambassador of soccer, did all he could to help elevate the game and contribute to its success. And nothing would have seemed more legitimate than that. After all, he was the god through which all worshippers of soccer send their prayers.
Let me point out though that Cosmos has achieved an extraordinary feat. Their early season attendance was only a couple thousands of fans and through the end of the 70’s played in front of 77,691 fans. From a business and investment standpoint, this was simply magical! And yet as puzzlingly as it might have been to many that sudden growth did not last more than a brief decade. The NASL folded and soccer development as a buy-product failed terribly at taking roots despite having its king and the money to support it.
And why is this episode critical to revisit at this juncture one might ask? It is because what is taking place tonight in Lucas Oil Stadium needs context in its significance to those who wish to see an organic growth approach to developing the most recognizable game to the world--in a country where sport is part of its social and cultural fabric.
Ever since I too have wondered, secretly though, what is the right approach which would be organic and sustainable that could help prevent a repeat of the 70’s experience? As a fan who wishes to see it reaching the top, I struggled with that question up until US Women's Soccer started to gain not just recognition amongst men and women, but legitimate notoriety from the US, particularly in the media. Nothing commands more passion from the US fans than when engaged in any international competition to see their team become the ultimate winner. And this women's team of the 90’s had more than delivered on that front!
I’m not advocating that women's soccer was the only reason why the game had finally gained real popularity, but I knew somehow this was the impetus the game needed! And because of it, kids all over this great country were enrolled in soccer programs all over town to be the next Mia Hamm. Soccer had found a new household name to represent it. The name 'soccer mom' became common parlance and was mainstreamed. I knew this movement would eventually yield to something greater and more sustainable.
Ironically though, it isn’t Pele who made the game as popular, but some unknown passionate ladies whose parents must have watched him play! What a delight it will be to see those kids again tonight and their parents wearing soccer jerseys of some other players (although not Pele) cherishing the dream of becoming them. It’ll simply confirm again that someone had made the right investment in the right place and at the right time. And who knows maybe we will see Messi and Neymar in Indy someday!
Enjoy the game whether on TV or live at the stadium!