Thursday, May 23, 2013
How the MLS can truly Americanize soccer
By Steve Etheridge
Earlier this week, Major League Soccer announced plans for its 20th expansion team, a New York City football club with an imaginative name: New York City Football Club.
It will be the city’s first team not based on an energy drink, and it will be owned by the New York Yankees and the Premier League’s Manchester City, presumably because Big Tobacco and the Sith Lords weren’t interested.
NYCFC will not begin play until 2015, but already folks are jawing about what the team will mean for the future of soccer in America. In a post-Beckham landscape, can it help sustain the sport’s growth and make converts of skeptical American fans?
It’s got a better chance than other expansion teams of the past. This is an optimistic time for U.S. soccer, with MLS growing at a healthy clip and television networks ponying up for broadcasting rights to international matches. But popularity-wise, soccer is still light years behind the other major U.S. sports.
Maybe that’s because, for many Americans, the idea of professional soccer is still inaccessibly foreign. We think of the British accents, and the storied rivalries between whimsical athletic houses, and the fans in bright scarves shouting strange mantras at their heroes chasing the ball below -- it’s all very Harry Potter-ish, if you think about it. And it’s hard to imagine many red-blooded, oil-guzzlin’ Americans getting jazzed on prepubescent wizards.
We’re also not very receptive to outside ideas (if that wasn’t clear from the electrified barbwire along the border). Pretty much the only way to sell Americans on soccer will be to make it feel like it’s American, sort of like how we bastardized Mesoamerican cuisine to create the Doritos Locos taco.
That’s where the NYCFC comes in. The name association with the Yankees makes it feel familiar. It reminds us of baseball, and we trust baseball. It also gives us an obvious villain to root against, which is important because Americans take equal satisfaction in hating certain teams and supporting others.
NYCFC also sets up an exciting rivalry in the United States' largest television market, potentially hooking the attention of millions of people who would’ve never sought out soccer storylines on their own. And the NYC-UK connection will serve as a pipeline for star power, allowing Man City to dump as many players off its books as the MLS will permit.
Stars and rivalries would certainly make the game more palatable to Americans, but they wouldn’t make it irresistible. Irresistible happens when NYCFC gets to that Doritos Locos level. And I have some ideas to make that happen.
The team hasn’t unveiled any sort of official identity yet -- no logo, no colors, no jerseys, etc. But whatever they settle on, it should be tailored explicitly to an American audience. For example:
• The uniforms -- not the “kits,” because that sounds unpatriotic -- should obviously be red, white, and blue. TruckNutz should be dangling from the shorts, and the word “HEMI” should be printed in menacing industrial letters across the back. Actually, scratch that, there shouldn’t be any words at all, because who wants to read stuff when they’re watching sports? Fabric-wise, denim is a must, though spandex lightning bolts on the rib cage would be permissible. If shin guards are absolutely necessary, they should be identical to the ones Cleatus the Fox Sports Robot wears. No exceptions. Also: jockstraps woven from genuine eagle hide.
• The entire 100 level of the team’s stadium should be reserved for the One Percent, while the rest of the population has to watch the game from atop a giant mound of asbestos and discarded scratch-off tickets. And the field shouldn’t be called a “pitch,” but rather a “freedom lawn.”
• “God Bless America” should be performed every time there is a stoppage in play, and the Blue Angels should do a flyover to distract the opponents every time they get a free kick.
• Possible mascots: A John Wayne hologram wielding two cans of Axe like they’re six-shooters. Chumlee* from “Pawn Stars” riding around in a motorized bathtub on wheels (the tub should be filled with McRib patties). An anthropomorphic John Deere tractor with giant donuts for wheels. A grouchy old pair of dungarees that complains about gas prices and smokes Newports. A walking, talking Mount Rushmore monster that vomits corn syrup out of its eyes every time the team scores. Nancy Reagan in an Iron Man suit. Etc.
• There should be so many heartwarming on-field reunions between soldiers and their families that the U.S. has to bring them in from all over the country to keep up with the demand.
• The goal song should be a recording of Scott Stapp screaming “LIBERTYYYYYY!!!!” into a bullet mike while Ice T flaps his little rat tail thing into a theremin. And it should be followed up by a deafening pyrotechnic sequence and a re-enactment of the Iwo Jima flag-raising by a group of bikini-clad babes.
• That rule about not using hands might come off as a tad bit socialist, so the players should just go ahead and use their hands and then take the penalties in stride. But even then, the action might still seem a little tedious, so the mascot should pepper the fans with an endless succession of free T-shirts. Or perhaps there should be a free T-shirt drone that targets those who aren’t having fun and blasts them with a lethal barrage of XXXL Hanes Beefy-T shirts.
• After halftime, the team should just call it quits on the soccer thing and start playing football instead. USA! USA! USA!
If NYCFC adopts this kind of identity, soccer will quickly become America’s favorite pastime. It will no longer be considered the “world’s game,” but rather “the game that America graciously allows the rest of the world to play.” And the world will be grateful.