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United States-Honduras soccer match at Soldier Field: An away game for U.S.?

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usa-costa-rica-soccer.JPG
(AP Photo)

At the US-Honduras World Cub qualifying match Saturday night at Soldier Field it's very possible the majority of fans  -- or perhaps the more vocally vociferous fan base -- will not be waving stars and stripes or clad in red, white and blue.

This is nothing new for the players. And it's not a knock against soccer fans in Chicago.

It's just the way it is:
Home soccer games in the United States can often feel like away games for the Men's National Team, due ostensibly to the massive amounts of displaced fans of opposing teams who flock to the games.

It makes sense. If I found myself in Honduras I'd fight the harshest Tegucigalpa traffic jam to support my countrymen. If only there were more local fans here willing to brave the Eisenhower and the Kennedy Saturday night.

Because the United States needs the support of Chicago's soccer fans now more than ever. It's coming off an absolutely abysmal performance in which it gave up first place in the Concacaf Hexagonal final qualifying round of the World Cup to Costa Rica 3-1. In recent years the United States has dominated this region.

It's one of sports' great mysteries -- in a country with unlimited resources to cultivate our athletes; in a country that has produced countless world-class competitors and immortal teams in a variety of sports; why have we not licked this soccer thing?

OK, maybe it's not such a big mystery. Perhaps it simply comes down to dollars. Even though soccer remains among the most popular sports for kids to play in this country, they inevitably tend to stray, opting to focus their efforts on this country's more marketable sports, like baseball, basketball and football.

Peyton Manning was last year's NFL most valuable player. LeBron James won the award in the NBA.

Meanwhile, Guillermo Barros Schelotto was the 2008 Major League Soccer MVP.

I don't know the details of Schelotto's contract with the Columbus Crew, but I'd take LeBron's, Peyton's.

The point is, until this country has a true soccer superstar who leads the team to victory, the majority of athletic kids won't grow up dreaming of playing for the US National Team.

mike-fisher-batavia.JPGI was 13 years old when Mike Fisher (at right) was becoming the national high school soccer player of the year in my home town of Batavia. For me, his story is the most telling example of soccer's cultural value in this country.

When Fisher was snagging headlines in national publications, it seemed like every kid my age was schlepping up and down the soccer field on the weekends. My parents carted me all over Northern Illinois -- from Palos Heights to Rockford -- to kick a soccer ball. For all those miles they tacked on to the old Acura, they have Mike Fisher to thank.

In 1992 Fisher led Batavia to a third place finish at state. He went on to star at the University of Virginia, where he was named the 1995 college player of the year. He was an alternate on the 1996 Olympic team, chosen second overall in the 1997 MLS draft.

Instead of signing a professional soccer contract, he opted instead for medical school.

Granted, it's a noble profession -- and an elite venture that requires talent and dedication tantamount to that of playing a professional sport.

With the exception of Florida State safety Myron Rolle -- the Rhodes scholar who may still one day play in the NFL -- have you ever heard of a sport's great prospect simply tapping out?

It's possible that under different circumstances Fisher, now 34, would have been playing on Soldier Field this weekend just 40 miles from his hometown rather than working at a hospital somewhere in North Carolina. But at age 22, he saw greater earning potential in scrubs than shin guards, and I imagine he's not regretting the decision.

The earning potential thing will probably never change in America, but we can do something about the fact that the US Men's National Soccer Team has to play an away game just a few blocks from its Chicago headquarters.

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10 Comments

Why isn't this game being played at Toyota Park?

I would prefer that those soccer geeks stay off the turf. I would hate to see the local NFL franchises prized off-season acquisition tear-up his knee on some divit that Pele causes.

Linda S.

Great to see a US soccer article! Keep them coming!

Big match for the US after getting creamed by Costa Rica. I'll be at the game rooting for...Honduras. I think 50% of the stadium will be fans of Honduras - we travel well. I really wish the US had beat Costa Rica because I want the US and Honduras to qualify. In the end the US will qualify, I really believe that, so I'm rooting for Honduras because they need the points more.

"...it's not a knock against soccer fans in Chicago."

Clearly, it really is. There are places where the U.S. can get a home crowd (Columbus, Salt Lake, Portland (back in 1997). These qualifiers need to be in smaller stadiums where at least a majority of the fans are supporting the home team.

Places like Chicago, LA, should not get qualifiers. Friendlies - sure - they're money-makers. But not for qualifiers.

"Why isn't this game being played at Toyota Park?

I would prefer that those soccer geeks stay off the turf. I would hate to see the local NFL franchises prized off-season acquisition tear-up his knee on some divit that Pele causes"

first, what could a 180lb soccer player do to the turf in June that will create serious problems for a 400lb football player in September? they do maintain the field, you know.

also, it's at soldier field because it is bigger and will hold a larger crowd. they actually hold many soccer games there, and i don't think anyone has complained about the damage it's done (at least anymore than is done for soccer games about football damage)

Linda S., who's not all that bright, said: "I would prefer that those soccer geeks stay off the turf. I would hate to see the local NFL franchises prized off-season acquisition tear-up his knee on some divit that Pele causes."

I'm sure they'll try really hard to keep the 180-pound soccer players from tearing up the pristine Chicago Parks Department grass so the 300-pound NFL guys don't have a problem 90 days from now. That would be some divot to last until the NFL season.

Do you honestly think that "the local NFL franchise's prized-off-season acquisition" is never going to step in a divot caused by one of the other 21 players on the field during an NFL game (preseason or regular season)?

Are you out of your mind? Seriously?

Kevin,

I can think of stories like Fisher's. Bob "Foothills" Kurland had epic NCAA battles with George Mikan, and finished college with an NCAA tournament Most Outstanding Player and two Olympic gold medals. But he went into the Phillips 66 executive program rather than the NBA. (He did play basketball in the Amateur Athletic Union).

Gerald Ford was an NCAA all-American football player at Michigan, but went to law school instead.

In both of those cases the remuneration of a career in the white collar world paid more than pro sports did at the time.

But things *do* change, and already have in soccer since Fisher's day. When he graduated college, it was the very first year of Major League Soccer's existence. He said of the thought of playing in it:

"Soccer's a little different in that if you come out of college and want to play, maybe you'll make $30,000 a year. If you're lucky and play well for five or six years, you maybe get up to high five figures in salary. If you go to medical school and come out of your residency, you start making six figures after two years of private practice."

Today, Major League Soccer's Most Valuable Player, Schelotto, makes $775,000 a year. The highest paid American in the league, Landon Donovan, the guy in the picture up there, makes $900,000 a year (player salaries are available at the players' union website, at http://www.mlsplayers.org/salary_info.html). Not that Fisher made the wrong decision for himself, as he was losing his enjoyment of the game by the time he got to that point, and if you're not enjoying the game you probably won't achieve that level. But I would think they're making more than Fischer does. (Especially factoring in the college debt, since neither of those two guys went to college at all.)

Chicago is a weak soccer market for WC qualifier. This game should be played in Seattle.

This match isn't at Toyota Park because that place is too small to host an international match. They've sold at least 50,000 tickets at Soldier Field.

C'mon, you should be much more concerned about the upcoming U2 concert as a threat to your precious Soldier Field than 22 men playing the world's greatest game for 90+ minutes.

Clearly Linda S. is just a total idiot or she is just trying to get a rise out of people. Personally, I am a much bigger fan of football than soccer, but nonetheless I wish the US the best in qualifying. I'm sure they will, and hopefully they can create a buzz so people like me will get off their butts and go watch some games.

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This page contains a single entry by Kevin Allen published on June 5, 2009 9:57 AM.

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