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List of Americans Abroad

Chicago fired wrong guy in dismissing Sarachan.

USSF takes first step to improve youth program.

Demands for Beckham are growing to insane levels.

Sunil Gulati and the road not taken.

New D.C. soccer stadium faces many obstacles.

Rongen faces obstacles in molding under-20 men.

Hunt will be remembered as just a regular guy.

Complications in coach selection process are of Gulati's own doing.

Nationality considerations present complications in expansion draft.

Myernick passing is tragedy for whole U.S. soccer family.

Gulati has tough task in finding replacement for Arena.

New FIFA rules could complicate MLS's future plans.

Memo to soccer haters: Just shut up!

Arena was not fired for failure, but need of new direction.

Conflicts between MLS, USSF best interests can hamper U.S. cause.

U.S. failure in World Cup is easy to understand -- other teams were better.

MLS ability to develop top players must be examined.

FIFA must examine World Cup policies.

Referees might have been harsh, but U.S. was not cheated against Italy.

Americans' only hope of advancement is winning two straight.

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Read the "It Seems To Me (the blog)" coming soon in
The SoccerTimes Blog

It Seems To Me . . .

Another columnist misses target trying to shoot down soccer.

By Robert Wagman

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sunday, July 22, 2007) -- The Washington Post sports columnist and ESPN commentator Michael Wilbon has written yet another column denigrating soccer. This time, he does so in an offhand way, almost a backhand slap, by way of a long analogy that is actually quite interesting. In the end, however, his reasoning is seriously flawed because he leaves out certain central facts that tend to destroy the validity of what he is arguing.

First, understand something about Michael. He believes God invented the National Basketball Association on the Seventh Day and almost anything else to do with sport is completely incidental and inconsequential. He has never much liked soccer and seems to take a certain pride in that. But then, he certainly has not tried to learn anything about the sport. He lives and works in Washington, but I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen him in the press box at RFK Stadium for a soccer game. And any appearance would be at an "event," such as an MLS Cup or U.S. national-team match.

But, I digress, so back to the column. It is actually about the National Football League's decision to abandon NFL Europe and to discontinue the league after losing a reported $400 million since 1991 when it started as the World League of American Football. (Actually, that's $25 million a year which is not terrifically bad and might have been worth it if the league was acting as a true minor league, and actually developing players for the NFL. Except for a few exceptions, however, it was not.)

Where Michael begins to drift off into soccer-bashing land is in the analogy he uses. He spends the rest of the column comparing the arrogance of NFL owners trying to foist American football on Europeans with Europeans trying to force soccer on America.

Wilbon wrote: "Professional soccer isn't satisfied with being the most popular sport in the world; it's international powers that be won't be satisfied until soccer has conquered the United States, no matter how many times Americans have turned thumbs down on domestic professional soccer."

In trying to carry this comparison forward, he ignores facts that should be central to the discussion -- three facts really.

First, there are not millions of young people across Europe playing American football. There are no Pop Warner leagues, there are no high-school teams and there are no college teams. Obviously, soccer is hugely popular here on a participation level and the job of MLS (which it is admittedly doing less then successfully) is to turn those soccer playing kids into paying fans. So, it has potentially a vast fan base here on which to try to build, something the NFL did not have in Europe.

Secondly, along these same lines, it might come as a surprise to some folks, but in some parts of the world, and that includes large parts of Europe, America is not much liked these days. Not just the U.S., but more specifically American culture. To many, American football represents the absolute worst in American culture -- a sport played by heavily-padded giants, devoid of much skill, and simply institutionalized mayhem. One British sportswriter I know dismisses the sport as "a series of committee meetings divided by 10 seconds of brutal insanity." So, in many places, it was a badge of honor to disdain American football, which I guess does have its parallels with those in the States who disparage soccer.

Thirdly, soccer over here is not something being exported to our shores. The last time I looked, MLS was started domestically and also run as an American enterprise. It is, with its single-entity concept of ownership, strictly a U.S. invention. It is Americans who are going abroad and buying soccer teams, some of the most established in Europe. It is Americans over here who are trying to break through the jingoism exhibited against soccer by people like, well, Michael Wilbon.

As I said at the beginning I found the comparison between NFL Europe and MLS interesting, but it seems to me the facts negate the validity of the analogy. Wilbon might have written a more interesting column had it explored whether NFL Europe might have learned some lessons from the MLS operation.

Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.

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