I've been working on a piece for next week's print edition of the Houston Press on the sport of soccer in the aftermath of the World Cup.
In doing some of the research, I've been gathering the usual cadre of statistics, quotes, historical information and expert speculation (thank you, Glenn Davis and Rob Stone!). As someone who grew up in a soccer family, the sport definitely feels like it's as well positioned as ever to really take off in this country.
Gargantuan television contracts, plush new stadiums, league expansion, all these things are happening. These are all great things.
Then, on top of that, the mere soccer awareness across other sports certainly signals heightened relevance for the beautiful game.
We saw some a couple of examples at SEC Media Days:
First, there was MIssissippi State head coach Dan Mullen, who was asked about the rabid nature of SEC college towns and the fierce loyalty of the fan bases as seen in the way they defend home field and the way they travel. His answer (courtesy of NBC Sports):
"I do think that SEC football could be compared to European soccer," Mullen said. "The passion our fans have is equal. Now I'm sure I'll have a lot of European nations very upset with me saying that and teams throughout the world upset, but that is one of the things that makes this league so fun is the passion that our fanbases have for football is similar to watching the passion these European soccer teams and followings have, which is a pretty neat deal."
Of course, this isn't just Mullen spewing some rhetoric that he heard from his kids about how cool soccer is, or some sweeping generalization that he made after watching a week of World Cup soccer. Mullen is clearly a fan of the sport:
"I don't mind waking up early and turning on the Premiership early on Sunday mornings and Saturday mornings if you happen to have a little bit of a break before the day gets going," Mullen said.
Yeah, you can't fake that. Dude clearly enjoys his international soccer.
Now, LSU's head coach, Les Miles, had a little tougher time faking it. To be clear, I think it's hard for Les Miles to fake anything. There is nary an ounce of pretense about this man. Les is real as real gets. He is real recognizing the real. For real. Here is poor Les with his assessment of the 2014 World Cup:
1. "The summer was marked with FIFA...FIFA action..." This is Les's lead-in. Nobody asked him about FIFA or the World Cup, it's what this summer was "marked by." Also, I like the way he says "FIFA action," like it's something semi-sexual, like "hot lesbian action."
2. "I rooted for the USA, first and foremost. Then I rooted for Costa Rica. Then I rooted for...Colombia had a physical brand of ball that I really kind of enjoyed." Les pointing out that he was rooting for the USA was very calming to me, as I thought for sure he was sent here by the Russians to help capture Jack Bauer. (Wait, if he were, wouldn't he be trying to fool us into thinking he likes the USA? So many layers!) Also, color Les Miles as the first coach to use the phrase "physical brand of ball" when describing a soccer team.
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3. "...the smatter of athleticism...the uniqueness of play...was really great..." I'll admit, I had no idea that athleticism was measured in units of "smatter."
4. "...when you start an acronym with F for 'Federation', don't you really just kind of come to mind of a guy that's carrying a gun?" Um, sure....wait, what?
5. "....I mean really, FEDERATION...INTERNATIONAL....FUTBOL....ASSOCIATION....right? It seems like maybe they should have added 'conglomeration' and some other '-tions' in there that'll make them....I mean I just really....was intrigued..." Um, so are we, Les. Please, please, please, don't ever change. EVER.