views updated May 14 2018


Soccer is unquestionably a game of the world, but with histories, dimensions, and passions that are more likely to be felt locally. In the context of the Americas, there is no doubt that the legacy of the African diaspora has proven to be a key element in the evolution of the sport from North to South America. Moreover, the result of the African presence can be measured by Brazil's status as the only five-time World Cup champion and its national hero, Pelé, as the greatest player of the world. Thus, while the African presence and influence must be contextualized by region and nation, the connections between Pelé, Brazil, soccer, and the notion of the jogo bonito (the "beautiful game") are virtually coextensive. Still, while Brazil and its players are the apex of the sport and the reification of African influence on the game in the new world, the Americas offer other interesting histories of the black experience within soccer.

In the context of Brazil, long rated among the world's soccer powers, the contributions of blacks have been largely felt on the field, beginning with the goal-scoring prowess of Arthur Friedenrich and the contributions of the first great black Brazilian internationals, Domingos and Leonidas, who participated in the 1938 World Cup. Still, the great Brazilian teams from 1950 through 1970 were heavily reliant on the creative talents of a number of black footballers, including Jair, Garrincha, Zizinho, Pelé, and Carlos Alberto. World champions again in 1994, the image of the Brazilian team is now cemented, a multiracial squad engaged in creative work. From the late 1980s to the present, the Brazilian team has competed with a large number of black stars and a succession of key creative and scoring talents (Romario, Rivaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Robinho), each of whom has extended the legacy established by the earlier generations of black Brazilian stars. An important part of this legacy is the Brazilian style of play, a reflection of the individual brilliance and inventiveness of black players who have demonstrated an unequaled capacity to create and score.

Notwithstanding the brilliance of such pivotal players, Brazil has also had a brace of defensive players (notably Junior and Cafu). Still, the issue of race has also been in question in Brazil, extending from the early days of the twentieth century when the game was effectively segregated to the almost traditional location of white players in the pivotal role of goalkeeper. This latter fact is perhaps due to the trauma of the Brazilian populace after losing, on home soil, the 1950 World Cup with the unlucky black goalkeeper, Barbosa. Taken as a whole, across several generations, black athletes in Brazil have been central in the nation's ability to secure an unprecedented five FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) World Cups, the quadrennial culmination of regional and international group competitions.

The centrality of blacks, however, is not limited to Brazil. Across many parts of Latin America where generations of forced and unforced immigration have led to significant populations of Afro-Latinos, the presence of blacks has been marked and important. For example, in Peru, a nation with a long history of national and international participation in soccer and a period of punctuated excellence in the early- to mid-1970s, Teofilo Cubillas stands out as the seminal figure within the sport. Similarly, black players have contributed to the successes of Uruguay and, especially, Colombia, the latter having finally produced a run of success through the 1990s based on the talents of midfielder Carlos Valderrama and forwards Freddy Rincon and Faustino Asprilla. Colombia is also notable because of the contributions of coach Francisco Maturana at both the club and national team level. He thus represents the incursions, not yet fully realized, of black managers in the game.

Like their counterparts in Brazil, Peru, and Colombia, various Central American nations (principally Honduras, Costa Rica, and El Salvador) and Caribbean nations (Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica) have experienced success at the international level and have contributed important black players to the best Latin American and continental professional leagues.

Indeed, the Central American and Caribbean region, which at the international level was regionalized to include the Caribbean islands, Mexico, Canada, and the United States, also has a rich history of black athletes. Costa Rica became highly competitive in the 1990s because of the contributions of players such as Paulo Wanchope (who has played much of his club football in Europe). Similarly, Haiti in 1974, El Salvador and Honduras in 1982, and Jamaica in 1998 have demonstrated the excellence of largely Afro-Latino teams in World Cup competitions. Jamaica is particularly notable because so much of its team was and

remains comprised of the sons of Jamaican immigrants who moved to the United Kingdom. Thus, a large percentage of these players have developed in England's Premier League and the lower divisions of the English Football Association. Likewise, Trinidad and Tobago's team was reliant on expatriates based in the United Kingdom, including Dwight Yorke, a starting striker during the dominant 1990s iterations of Manchester United.

Closer to the United States the impact of such players can be marked by the importance of Pelé in the grassroots popularity of soccer beginning in the mid-1970s with his arrival in the United States to play for the New York Cosmos in the now-defunct North American Soccer League (NASL). Shortly thereafter, other players of high caliber, including Cubillas, the Brazilian Mirandinha, and the Portuguese Eusebio, and a raft of British imports, often with roots in the Caribbean Islands (e.g., Clyde Best, Clive Charles, Godfrey Ingram, and Vince Hilaire), as well as African players (Jomo Sono, Jean-Pierre Tokoto, Andreis Maseko, Ade Coker, Ken Mogojoa, and Ace Ntsolengoe) began appearing for various clubs during the height of the North American Soccer League (19681984).

Although black imports like Pelé and Cubillas raised the profile of soccer, this did not necessarily draw African-American youth to the sport in significant numbers. Unlike in Latin America, soccer has long been the sport of the white suburbs and thus the NASL did not connect well with black communities already drawn to baseball, basketball, and football. Within the U.S. national team, which has persisted in regional and international competitions even while an alphabet soup of professional soccer leagues has risen and fallen in the United States, there had been very few black players between 1930, which marked the first U.S. entrance into the World Cup, and 1990, which marked the team's first World Cup appearance since the historic 1950 competition that saw the U.S. team defeat a seemingly all-powerful squad from England. The 1990 team had among its ranks only two African AmericansJimmy Banks and Desmond Armstrong.

Nevertheless, the emergence of Major League Soccer (MLS) in 1995 also demonstrated a deeper integration of African-American and Afro-Latino players. Thus, apart from bringing such Afro-Latinos as Carlos Valderrama, Eduardo Hurtado, and Jose Dely Valdez to the league, an impressive list of African Americans has emerged. These players have contributed to the league, as well as the development of the national team, which has qualified for each of the last four World Cups (19902002), a feat unparalleled in the history of U.S. soccer. Key players in MLS and on the national team have included goalies Tim Howard and Zach Thornton; defenders Eddie Pope and Tony Sanneh; midfielders Earnie Stewart, Cobi Jones, and teenage sensation Freddy Adu; and Roy Lassiter and DeMarcus Beasley. Indeed, the caliber of such players is marked by their presence on top-division teams in England, Germany, Holland, and Italy.

For most Americans, the issue of African Americans and sport is dominated by the important social and historical developments within the "big three" of U.S. professional team sports. However, a broader geographical view demonstrates that the historical developments and flows that brought Africans to the shores of the Americas have resulted in profound and spectacular developments across a variety of sports, including soccer. It is impossible to think of the game without its African-American contributors, who have left indelible marks on how the game is played by club and national teams across South, Central, and North America. Undoubtedly, these contributions will continue as the sport moves forward and looks forward to the African continent hosting a World Cup.

See also Pelé (Nascimento, Edson Arantes do); Sports


Bellos, Alex. Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life (spine title: Futebol: Soccer, the Brazilian Way). New York: Bloomsbury, 2002.

Lever, Janet. Soccer Madness: Brazil's Passion for the World's Most Popular Sport. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983; rev. reissue, Long Grove, Ill.: Waveland, 1995.

Murray, Bill. The World's Game: A History of Soccer. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996.

Radnedge, Keir, ed. The Complete Encyclopedia of Soccer. London: Carlton, 2002.

fernando delgado (2005)

Figo, Luis

views updated May 23 2018

Luis Figo


Portuguese soccer player

Luis Figo, a World Footballer of the Year, was in such demand that he was sold from FC Barcelona to Real Madrid of Spain's elite soccer league for $56 million in 2000. In his native Portugal, Figo has been compared to the great Eusebio.

Raised in Lisbon

Figo was born in the blue-collar Almada section of Lisbon, Portugal, and after competing for the youth team Uniao Futebol Clube Os Pastilhas, joined the club Sporting Lisbon at age 11. He made his debut for Lisbon's parent soccer club at age 16 and played for world champion national teams in the under-16 and under-20 age categories He made the national squad in 1991, thus earning his first international cap.

He became Lisbon's captain for the 1994-95 season, then signed provisional contracts with Italian Serie A teams Juventis and Parma. But FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association), the world soccer governing body, banned Figo from playing in Italy for two years, so the rising star signed with Barcelona of the Spanish league. Barcelona coach Johan Cruyff, himself a former World Cup star for the Dutch, converted Figo from a midfielder to a right wing. Figo and Barcelona prospered together. Between 1997 and 1999, Barcelona won the Cup Winners' Cup and the European Super Cup, consecutive Spanish league titles and

the Spanish Cup. Figo scored 30 goals in 172 games for Barcelona.

Though Portugal missed the 1998 World Cup, Figo's stock rose. He earned the Ballon D'Or (Golden Ball) Award from France Football in 2000 and a year later received the FIFA World Player award. His spectacular goal during Portugal's 3-2 comeback victory over England in the Euro 2000 tournament drew special notice. "Figo's run and long-range rocket into the top corner of the net was both spectacular and match-turning. Portugal appeared out of the match at 2-0 down when he struck," CNN-Sports Illustrated wrote on its Web site.

"A wide-ranging player who is happiest on the flanks, Figo has pace, stamina, strength, excellent close control and a deadly shot," wrote Mike Penner and Grahame Jones of the Los Angeles Times. "Add to that exceptional dribbling skills and a crossing ability that puts him on a par with England's David Beckham , and you have the complete player, one equally at home as a forward, playmaker or winger."

Controversy over Transfer Fees

By 2001, however, Figo was playing not for Barcelona, but for Spanish league rival Real Madrid. In late 2000, Figo signed a six-year contract with Madrid, which agreed to pay Figo $4 million a year, and Madrid agreed to buy out his contract by paying Barcelona a world record $56 million. In joining Madrid, Figo broke a promise that he would never leave Barcelona.

"The battle was as bitter and passionate as any Cup final," Jennie James wrote in Time Europe. "But if the accusation of treason and the veiled threats of revenge that followed Figo's defection seemed excessive, they were trifling compared to the price Real Madrid paid for him." The size of the fees, and their degree of legality have sparked political and legal debate around Europe. "In one of the most politically and emotionally charged debates ranging in Brussels, the European Commission and the soccer establishment are fighting over how much European antitrust and labor laws should apply to this sport," Philip Shishkin wrote in the Wall Street Journal. The record lasted but briefly. Real Madrid executive Florentino Perez, one year later, lured former French 1998 World Cup hero Zinedine Zidane from Juventus for $64.45 million.

World Cup Frustration

Portugal qualified for the World Cup in 2002, having advanced past the preliminaries for the first time in 16 years. The Portuguese were considered a serious contender, despite having to play the early round in Group D with host nation South Korea. The United States and Poland, each considered decided underdogs, were also in the group.

"Take a poll of the United States players and ask them which single player they are most worried about facing in the World Cup and the answer is unanimous: Luis Figo," said Los Angeles Times writers Mike Penner and Grahame Jones. "As reigning FIFA world player of the year and soccer's second-most expensive player of all time behind Zindedine Zidane, Figo is to Portugal what Zidane is to France. In a word, indispensable. If anyone can lead the Portuguese to the world championship they so desperately desire, it's the 29-year-old millionaire from a working-class suburb of Lisbon." Figo had helped real Madrid win the European Champions Cup in May, 2002.

Portugal, however, ran into a roadblock in its opening game when the U.S. bolted to a stunning 3-0 lead and held on for a 3-2 upset win. The Americans, wrote the Associated Press, "held under intense pressure from Portugal in the final 10 minutes of the first half and the first 40 minutes of the second, withstanding Luis Figo, the world's top player, and his talented teammates. The result was among the five greatest wins in U.S. soccer history." By contrast, the AP added, "the Portuguese looked as if they were playing with the weight of their shoulders." Portugal never recovered from the loss. It defeated Poland 4-0 but lost to South Korea 1-0 and went home.


1972Born November 4 in Almada, Portugal
1989First played for Sporting Lisbon, at age 16
1991-92Made Lisbon's starting lineup
1995Signs provisional contracts with Italian teams Juventus and Parma, but FIFA bans him from playing in Italy for two years; signs instead with FC Barcelona
1995Barcelona coach Johan Cruyff converts him from midfielder to right wing
2000Registers only one assist in three games as Portugal drops two, including 3-2 defeat to United States, and fails to advance in World Cup
2001Marries model Helen Swedin

Awards and Accomplishments

1989Plays for Portuguese world champion under-16 team
1991Plays for Portuguese world champion under-20 team
1996Helps Portugal reach quarterfinals of European championships
2000Helps lead Portugal to semifinals of European championships
2000Wins Ballon D'Or (Golden Ball) Award
2001World Footballer of the Year
2002Real Madrid wins European Champions Cup

National Treasure

Figo, who is married to model Helen Swedin and has one child, is revered in his native Portugal. FIFA President Joseph Blatter, presenting the Footballer of the Year award in 2001, called him "the most unbelievable player from Portugal ever since the legendary Eusebio; he has the touch of an artist and the skills to be the most complete player ever." Still, Figo is past 30. In Real Madrid's 2-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen of Germany for the 2002 European Champions Cup, he was substituted in the 61st minute (a regulation soccer game is 90 minutes) while Zidane and Spaniard Raul Gonzalez (generally known by first-name only) carried Madrid. Figo has learned to adjust, as have other aging stars. And, Phil Ball writes in ESPN's Soccernet Web site that he is prone to taking dives, in an attempt to draw foul calls from officials. "Great player though he is," Ball writes, "(He) continues to perfect the art of the balletic fall as if it were going out of fashion."



Shishkin, Philip. "Europe Faces Soccer Shootout over Transfer Fees." Wall Street Journal (January 3, 2001): B.8A


2002 FIFA World Cup Korea Japan, Luis Figo Profile,, http:/ (May 31, 2002).

"American Dream: U.S. Holds on to Upset Portugal 3-2 at World Cup." CNN-Sports Illustrated, 5, 2002).

Ball, Phil. "Red Card to a Bull." ESPN Soccernet, 22, 2003).

"Bests and Worsts from Euro 2000." CNN-Sports Illustrated, 2, 2000).

"Figo, 2001 FIFA World Player." (January 16, 2003).

James, Jennie. "More Money Than Sense." Time Europe, http:/// (August 7, 2000).

Penner, Mike and Grahame Jones. "Profiles of Key Players." South Florida Sun-Sentinel, (January 28, 2003).

Wallace, Sam. "Fatigue Blamed for Giggs' Loss of Form." Daily Telegraph (U.K.), (January 11, 2003).

Whiteside, Kelly. "USA Notches Upset in World Cup Opener." USA Today, (June 6, 2002).

Sketch by Paul Burton


views updated May 23 2018


To its worldwide following of fans who number in the hundreds of millions, soccer is "the beautiful game." Soccer is the world's most popular sport, the only game is played at an elite competitive level in every country on Earth.

A large measure of soccer's appeal is its simplicity. Played on a large field, with 11 players per side, the object of soccer is straightforward: to direct the ball with either the feet or one's head into the opponent's goal. The rules of the game are equally direct, establishing in the single referee the absolute and final authority for matters on the field. While physical size and speed are useful attributes in a soccer player, another aspect of the popularity of soccer is that anyone can play the game, and while age may diminish a player's speed or ball-handling skills, soccer can be a competitive pursuit at any age.

Soccer has likely been played in one form or another in many cultures over the centuries, as the act of kicking an object is a natural one. Soccer as an organized sport began in England in the mid-1800s, both as a school competition and among workingmen for recreation. The Football Association, the world's oldest governing body for soccer, was formed in England in 1872. The Laws of the Game, as propagated by the Football Association, have remained the rules bedrock on which soccer has enjoyed its worldwide development. The first international play took place among the countries of the British Isles, and by 1900, the game was being played widely throughout Europe.

Soccer enjoys the tradition built in many very prestigious professional leagues, particularly in Europe; the European soccer governing body, UEFA, is a very influential organization in its own right, with over 50 member countries and their national soccer associations. All of the interest in international soccer reaches a crescendo in the glamorous and intense, often super-heated environment created through the quadrennial World Cup, and the over two years of qualifying play downs that precede the selection of the 32-team field. The inter-national game, both at the World Cup as well as in any regional championships such as the European Cup or African Cup, is ultimately conducted in accordance with the rules of the Federation Internationale de Football Associations (FIFA). The governing body of international soccer rivals the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for the claim to being the most powerful sports governing body in the world.

The field on which soccer is played is as simply configured as the game itself. The field, or pitch as it is called in Europe, is a rectangular shape; in international play, the field must measure a minimum of 110 yd to 120 yd in length (100-110 m), with a minimum width of 64 yds to a maximum of 75 yd (70-82 m). Each of the outside boundaries is patrolled by a linesman, who determines whether the ball has gone out of play. These officials also advise the referee as to whether a particular play is offside. The goal is also rectangular, 24 ft wide by 8 ft high (7.3 m by 2.4 m). An 18 yd (16.5 m) penalty area is marked in another rectangle on the field adjacent to the goal; for fouls committed by a defensive player within this area, a penalty kick is awarded and the ball placed for a single penalty shot from a mark 12 yd (11 m) from the goal.

By FIFA rule, international soccer has been played on natural turf surfaces only. Earlier generation artificial surfaces tended to cause the ball to bounce more than was desirable; the plastic turf also posed the significant risk of abrasions to players who slid to make a tackle or goalkeepers making a save. FIFA have authorized the testing of the softer, newer generation artificial surfaces, with a view to integrating these surfaces into FIFA competitions, as FIFA recognizes that natural turf cannot be properly maintained in some climates.

Soccer, like rugby and basketball, is a sport where the successful player must have command of a broad athletic skill set, irrespective of the position played. The player must have a base level of endurance that will permit the athlete to run for a full 90-minute game, with often intense bursts of running and other physical activity interspersed within that period. The goalkeeper is often a tall and very agile athlete, with well-developed hand-eye coordination and the ability to anticipate offensive strategy. The defenders are often the largest players on the field; they must be able to run with the position's speedy forwards, to clear the ball from the defensive zone with either a "header" or a clearing kick, as well as being able to make a strong and accurate pass while under opposing player pressure.

The midfielder must possess the best all-round skills on a soccer team, capable of breaking up offensive sorties by the opponent, as well as moving forward to join the attack against the opposing goal. The forwards, often given the designation "the striker," have a primary responsibility to carry the attack to the opponent, seeking to create opportunities to score goals. Unlike rugby and American football, the sports that have their origins in soccer, soccer games are typically low scoring. A striker who can convert the relatively few chances to score is a valuable soccer commodity.

One of the great attractions of soccer is that no matter how sublimely talented a player may be, teams are only successful when they are working in unison. Team concepts such as the spacing of the players and the determination with which they move the ball into an attacking position as a team will usually trump an outstanding individual player who attempts to monopolize the ball.

Soccer is a sport where the individual technical components can be broken down into discrete parts for training and improvement. Those basic areas are dribbling, in which the control of the ball by the individual player is a precondition to success in a dynamic 11-player team concept. Dribbling a soccer ball is all of the techniques used to control the ball when it is at the feet of a player, both while the player is stationary and when the player is moving with the ball. Soccer demands that a skilled player be able to make a multitude of different passes, all of which are dictated by the circumstances with which the player is faced. Soccer passes range from delicate touches of the ball that merely change its direction to a teammate, to huge 60 yd (55 m) kicks to reach a teammate attempting to outrun the opposing defense. Receiving a pass can be required in a similar variety of circumstances from almost any place on the field; the key aspect to receiving a pass is the control of the ball with the feet, legs, torso, or head.

Shooting the soccer ball is elevated to an art form in a game where scoring chances are relatively few. Kicks directed at the goal are rarely taken from a stationary position; offensive players are often on the move, and they are required to make instantaneous decisions concerning both the direction and the speed of the intended kick. The header is an essential skill for every player on a soccer field. Heading the ball is used to clear the ball away from a player's own goal to control and to maintain possession of the ball through the midfield, and to direct the ball, often in remarkable feats of agility and coordination, into the opposing goal. When the ball is kicked out of bounds by a player, the opposing team is permitted to throw the ball onto the field of play. The throw must be made with both feet on the ground and an overhead motion.

The corner kick is when the ball is kicked out of bounds behind the goal line by the defensive team, and the attacking team is awarded a corner kick, taken from the corner of the field and directed into the goal area to create an offensive chance for the attackers, either as a header or a kick. The corner kick is usually struck by the player to create spin on the ball, causing the ball to bend. All high-level teams attempt to run a set play from a corner kick, often with an offensive player running into the goal area as the ball is delivered by the kicker.

The penalty kick is an important feature of soccer, both as an award for a foul committed in the goal area during the game, and as the tie-breaking device at the end of regulation play. Soccer was the first major sport to provide for a series of penalty shots as its tie breaker, as opposed to the continued play of the game until a sudden death goal was scored (Olympic ice hockey now has a penalty shot tie breaker).

Like basketball, soccer is nominally a non-contact game as well as an extremely physical sport. "Marking" is the well-known European term for the actions of a defender to keep an opposing forward for either getting free to take a pass or to deliver a shot if the forward received the ball. The closer the action comes to the goal, the more prominent the battles for physical position between forwards and defense. In international soccer, the referee often will not call an obvious foul if there was no advantage gained to the player in question.

Speed and anticipation are essential to both control the defensive end of the field and to make attacks on the opponent.

Technical skill will usually take a team a great way toward success. The pinnacles of the game are reached by teams that play with a particular and well-defined style. Brazil has dominated World Cup play since the 1950s with a quick, highly entertaining brand of soccer, while countries such as France and Germany have been successful with a more measured and deliberate approach. Decisions regarding the style of play to be employed are often a combination of philosophy and athleticism.

While the world market for soccer is immense and continually growing, North America represented in many ways an unassailable fortress against which soccer could not secure a foothold. The North American Soccer League flourished in a few cities in the early 1970s, when the league secured the star power of one of the game's legendary players, the Brazilian Pelé. Soccer could never penetrate the professional sports consciousness on the North American continent, and the interest in professional soccer appeared to fade. A vibrant youth soccer movement that began in the 1980s, coupled with both the success of the American women's national team and the securing of a place in the 2006 World Cup by the American men's team, have created a positive image for the sport. In Canada, youth soccer registrations now outnumber those for ice hockey, the national game.

see also FIFA: World Cup Soccer; Musculoskeletal injuries; Soccer injuries; Soccer: (U.S.) Strength and training exercises.


views updated May 29 2018


Soccer in early forms has been played on the American continent for more than three centuries, providing it with a historical lineage that far surpasses those of sporting pastimes considered to be more essentially American (for example, baseball, football, and basketball). Indeed, one noted commentator has gone so far as to describe it as "the elder statesman of American sport" (Sugden, p. 219). However, as with the premodern versions of the game in America, the British influence on modern soccer's genesis and evolution within the United States is pronounced. Fermented within the social laboratories of the British public school system during the early decades of the nineteenth century, the divergent soccer (kicking) and rugby (handling) football codes were exported to the United States, primarily via the migration of staff and pupils. By the 1860s, soccer had become a discernible feature within many East Coast preparatory schools and universities. Indeed, it is frequently overlooked that the first intercollegiate football game was played between Princeton and Rutgers in 1869 using soccer rules derived from those codified by the English Football Association in 1863.

The American Football Association (AFA) was founded in 1884. It was the first soccer league formed outside of Britain, and evidenced the British influence on American sporting culture during the nineteenth century. As in Britain, soccer in turn-of-the-century America was the site of struggles between amateur and professional constituencies. The AFA increasingly became the representative institution for those interested in professionalizing American soccer, whereas, as its name implied, the American Amateur Football Association (AAFA) concerned itself with governing and promoting the amateur game. This division within American soccer culture was nowhere more apparent than during the conference held by soccer's worldwide governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1912. There, both the AFA and AAFA attended independently in an attempt to secure recognition from FIFA as the primary organizing body for the game in the United States. The cleavage in American soccer politics was subsequently resolved, with the conjoining of the rival groups in the establishment of the United States Football Association in 1913 (the USFA ultimately changed its name to the United States Soccer Association [USSA] in 1974). The USFA emerged as a staunchly amateur institution, and one interested in nurturing the European (and particularly British) provenance of the game; both factors contributed to inhibiting soccer's popularity within an early twentieth-century American sporting culture characterized by a creeping professionalism and search for national differentiation.

American soccer's increasingly foreign demeanor was accentuated through the mass influx of workers to industrializing urban centers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries from, among other places, Poland, Ireland, Russia, Germany, and Britain—all places where soccer had already become ingrained into the rhythms of everyday life. In the name of assimilating into life in the new world, many of these immigrants chose consciously to eschew the cultural symbols and practices of the lands from whence they came. However, many did not. To those who did not, soccer, like other cultural forms, including diet, religion, and folklore, played an important function in providing a sense of continuity in the lives of these new American. This explains the emergence of both soccer teams with explicitly ethnic affiliations (such as First German American S.C. in Philadelphia; Stix, Baer and Fuller F.C. in St. Louis; and Shamrock S.C. in Cleveland), and the multi-accented ethnic composition of U.S. representative sides. All of these factors contributed to soccer's failure to break into the American sporting mainstream

Throughout the twentieth century, soccer was viewed as the game of "hyphenated Americans." However, since the 1970s, the game's stupendous growth as a participant sport among middle-class suburban youth has also provided soccer with a distinctly American countenance. Soccer's growth is attributable to numerous factors, including the legacy of the professional North American Soccer League's grassroots youth soccer programs designed to stimulate interest in the sport; the increased opportunity for female sport participation resulting from the enactment of Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments Act; and the growing perception among the American middle class of soccer as an appropriate health and fitness nurturing activity for their offspring (especially when compared to the perceived brutality of football). The result has been an explosion in youth soccer participation rates that, at the high school level, grew 127 percent for boys and 618 percent for girls between 1980–1981 and 2000–2001 (National Federation of State High School Associations). As of 2002, soccer was played by more than 19 million people annually, and was positioned as the third most popular team sport for twelve to seventeen year olds and the second most popular for six to eleven year olds (Soccer Industry Council of America).

In seeking to conclusively establish the game within the United States, and thereby truly actualize the game's global reach, FIFA chose the United States as the host for the 1994 World Cup, which is soccer's premier tournament and one of the most popular sporting events in the world. As part of the political machinations that secured the World Cup, and to specifically address FIFA's global objectives, Major League Soccer (MLS) debuted in 1996 as the latest attempt to establish a truly national and economically viable professional soccer league in the United States. Like the game in America itself, MLS was consciously structured to engage the divided (along ethnic and class lines) American soccer populace. Similarly, in 2001, the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) debuted as an eight-team professional league timed to capitalize upon the phenomenal growth in female soccer participation and the outstanding displays of the U.S. women's national team at World Cup and Olympic tournaments. While the MLS has been able to find a niche in the American sports scene, the WUSA folded in 2003, largely as a result of corporate and media disinterest prompted by the league's failure to generate sufficient broader interest beyond its female fan base. While the attendance and television-viewing figures for the MLS are relatively modest, its continued existence speaks to soccer's newly found position within American culture. While perhaps not threatening the broad-based appeal or resonance of football, baseball, and basketball, soccer has become an acknowledged part of the American sporting landscape.

See also: Globalization of American Leisure, Professionalization of Sport


Andrews, D. L. "Contextualizing Suburban Soccer: Consumer Culture, Lifestyle Differentiation, and Suburban America." Culture, Sport, Society 2, no. 3 (1999): 31–53.

Delgado, F. "Major League Soccer: The Return of the Foreign Sport." Journal of Sport and Social Issues 21, no. 3 (1997): 285–297.

——. "Sport and Politics: Major League Soccer, Constitution, and (the) Latino Audiences." Journal of Sport and Social Issues 23, no. 1 (1999): 41–54.

Giulianotti, R. Football: A Sociology of the Global Game. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 1999.

Markovits, Andrei S., and Steven L. Hellerman. Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001.

National Federation of State High School Associations. High School Participation Survey. Indianapolis, Ind.: NFSHSA, 2002.

Soccer Industry Council of America. National Soccer Participation Survey. North Palm Beach, Fla.: SICA, 2002.

Sugden, J. "USA and the World Cup: American Nativism and the Rejection of the People's Game." In Hosts and Champions: Soccer Cultures, National Identities and the USA World Cup. Edited by J. Sugden and A. Tomlinson. Alder-shot, U.K.: Arena, 1994.

Wagg, S. "The Business of America: Reflections on World Cup '94." In Giving the Game Away: Football, Politics and Culture on Five Continents. Edited by S. Wagg. Leicester, U.K.: Leicester University Press, 1995.

David L. Andrews


views updated May 11 2018


SOCCER. Despite its organized origins at East Coast universities in the 1860s, soccer—"football" in its birthplace, Britain—has never truly flourished in the United States. Crowded out of the national sports culture by the "American" sports of football, baseball, and basketball, soccer has also suffered from a succession of failed domestic leagues. Between 1930 and 1950, and again in the 1990s, the U.S. national team had some success in soccer's premier tournament, the World Cup. However, since the 1970s, women's soccer has been more important than the men's game in the United States.

Although Americans often think of soccer as a "foreign" sport, its American roots extend back to 1869, when the first organized soccer match in the United States was played between Rutgers and Princeton universities. In 1884 the American Amateur Football Association was formed, the first such organization outside Britain. Ten years later the United States became the second country in the world to introduce professional soccer. However, these impressive statistics disguise serious early difficulties that determined soccer's marginal role in American sports history. In the 1870s Harvard University opted for a rugby-style "handling game" over the "kicking game." As other universities followed Harvard's example, the handling game developed into the native form of football, at the direct expense of the game Americans (in a telling example of sporting exceptionalism) would call "soccer."

In the late nineteenth century soccer also had to compete with baseball. Although baseball derived from Britain's cricket and rounders, boosters utilized the Abner Doubleday myth to promote baseball as a native-born sport, nothing less than the "national pastime." As the ideology of American nativism accelerated during the 1890s, immigrants realized that playing and watching baseball was an ideal opportunity to demonstrate their allegiance to the United States. By contrast, soccer was viewed as un-American: ominously, the first professional soccer league of 1894 disbanded within months amid controversy over the importation of British players.

In 1921 the American Soccer League (ASL) was formed. The ASL benefited from the economic affluence

and increased leisure time that precipitated a general boom in organized sport during the Roaring Twenties. Crowds at ASL matches regularly outstripped those at games in the nascent National Football League. However, organizational ineptitude, a lack of native talent, and the Wall Street crash of 1929 all contributed to the ASL's demise in 1931. Andrei S. Markovits and Steven L. Hellerman have argued that, as in other industrial capitalist nations, American "sport space" was established and cemented between 1870 and 1930, and that the failure of the ASL sealed American soccer's long-term fate. The game would never attract the blue-collar base of players and fans that powered the "Big Three," baseball, football, and basketball.

Despite these domestic tribulations, in 1930 the national team reached the semifinals of the inaugural soccer World Cup. Twenty years later the United States recorded the greatest upset in World Cup history, beating England 1–0 with a goal by Haitian-born Joseph Gaetjens. Yet it was testimony to the parlous state of American soccer that, while the result was decried as a national disaster in England, it was barely reported in the American media. Having participated in three of the first four World Cup finals, the United States would not qualify again until 1990.

On a domestic level, organized soccer remained distinctly minor league until 1975, when the struggling North American Soccer League (NASL), founded seven years earlier, was transformed by the New York Cosmos' signing of Brazil's Pele. The greatest soccer player in history brought thousands of spectators through the turnstiles, and his presence (along with massive salaries) helped to attract other soccer superstars to the NASL. However, after Pele's retirement in 1977 it became clear that the NASL's sudden success was a mirage. Audiences tired of a sport in which fading foreigners (Italy's Gianni Rivera memorably termed the NASL an "elephants' graveyard") outnumbered and outshone the few, mediocre American players. The NASL collapsed in 1985.

The league did leave one distinctive legacy. By marketing attendance at matches as a family affair, the NASL helped to establish soccer as an amateur sport among the white middle class, even though this interest has so far failed to evolve into a fan culture for the professional game. By 1997 more than 18 million Americans were playing soccer in some form, particularly organized youth soccer, which flourished because suburban parents perceived the game as nonviolent, coeducational, and multicultural. However, soccer's "yuppification" has compounded its marginalization from America's mainstream sports culture. The soccer boom has largely excluded the working-class and African American constituencies that dominate the professional teams and fan cultures of the Big Three.

In 1994, the United States hosted the World Cup. Beforehand, international commentators expressed outrage that a nation with no significant soccer history or culture would be hosting the apex of "the world's game." However, the tournament proved a great success on and off the field. The United States registered its first World Cup finals victory since 1950 by beating Colombia 2–1, and gave a creditable second-round performance in the 1–0 defeat by Brazil, the eventual champions. Yet the tournament's success failed to translate to the domestic game. The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) secured the World Cup upon the condition that a new national league would be established, but by the time Major League Soccer (MLS) began in 1995, the cultural effect of the World Cup had already waned. Attendance and viewing figures for televised matches remained disappointing. Indeed, until the USSF can convince the networks that soccer—with its few, infrequent scores and single "halftime" break for commercials—is television-friendly, the Big Three will continue to dominate American sport.

After a disastrous display in the 1998 World Cup, the United States exceeded all expectations in the 2002 tournament by beating Portugal and Mexico during a run to the quarter-finals, where the team was unfortunate to lose 1–0 to Germany. However, despite this impressive achievement, the most positive development in U.S. soccer history has been the astounding boom in the women's game. Since the 1970s, soccer has been promoted as a sport for girls—an idea that remains anathema in the male-oriented soccer nations of Europe and South America. In 1997,39 percent of soccer participants in the United States were female. This base helped the United States win the first women's World Cup in 1991 and the first women's Olympics tournament in 1996. In the 1999 World Cup, the victory of the United States as host nation secured the highest-ever domestic television audience for a soccer match and made national heroes of players like Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain.


Kuper, Simon. "Short, Dark, Americans." In Football Against the Enemy. London: Orion, 1994. Entertaining assessment of the state of American soccer among women, immigrants, and white suburbanites prior to the 1994 World Cup.

Markovits, Andrei S., and Steven L. Hellerman. Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001. Definitive sociological approach to soccer's troubled history in the United States.

Murray, Bill. The World's Game: A History of Soccer. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996.

Sugden, John. "USA and the World Cup: American Nativism and the Rejection of the People's Game." In Hosts and Champions: Soccer Cultures, National Identities, and the USA World Cup. Edited by John Sugden and Alan Tomlinson. Aldershot, England: Arena, 1994. Thorough account of how soccer has been perceived as "un-American."



views updated May 14 2018


Soccer in America is in a strangely paradoxical position. It is the world's most popular sport, yet it has never managed to gain much of a spectator footing in the United States. It may be virtually ignored on television as a spectator sport, but it has become one of the biggest participatory forms of leisure activity in America by the late 1990s. Nonetheless, many Americans are still ignorant not only of the rules of the world's biggest game, but also of their country's own soccer history.

The origins of soccer in America are obscure. Folklore suggests that the Pilgrim Fathers discovered the American Indians playing a form of the game along the Massachusetts coastline. British immigrants, however, imported the game that developed into association football (soccer) around the world in the nineteenth century, into America in the seventeenth century; there is documentation of the game as early as 1609. The game was an early folk pastime played mainly in the streets and open squares, and it remained so until the nineteenth century. By the 1820s, soccer was a violent, unorganized, and casual game almost exclusively played on college campuses. The first intercollegiate soccer match took place in 1869 between Princeton and Rutgers. Schoolboys established the first organized soccer club, the Oneidas of Boston, in 1862. They played on Boston common and were undefeated for several years.

At this point it looked as if soccer would develop in the United States. British expatriates had exported soccer around the world and many immigrants from the British Isles arrived in America bringing the game with them. Harvard, however, had other ideas. In an attempt to distinguish itself from the other Ivy League colleges, Harvard adopted rules similar to those developed by rugby football. Since Harvard was the leader in physical education during the nineteenth century and other colleges did not want to lose such prestigious competition, they adopted rugby rules. This set of rules subsequently became the basis for the innovation of American football. Football was then highlighted as a uniquely American sport while soccer was relegated in significance as the game of immigrants, particularly as it was played by the new arrivals from Southern Europe.

Nonetheless, soccer did not die out in America. In 1884 the American Football Association was organized in Newark, New Jersey. And in 1885 the United States played its first "international" against Canada, one of the first soccer games to be played outside the British Isles. The United States soccer team participated in the 1904 Olympic games in St. Louis and in 1914 the United States Football Association (USFA) was granted full membership in FIFA, the governing body of world soccer. In 1916 the USFA team traveled to Sweden and Norway. It played its first international match on foreign soil on August 20, defeating Sweden 3-0. When the first World Cup competition was organized in 1930, America was one of 13 nations to compete and its Bert Patenaude was the first player to score three goals in a single World Cup game. The highlight of the USFA's international games, however, was in the 1950 World Cup when it defeated England 1-0. This has been considered the biggest upset ever in international soccer.

Soccer in America has since undergone many incarnations during the twentieth century. In 1923, the world's first indoor soccer league was organized in Boston. In 1958, the International Soccer League was set up. It was composed of top teams from Europe, South America, and the United States, holding its first championship tournament in 1959. The league survived for a decade as a testing ground for soccer as a spectator sport in America. In 1967 two more soccer leagues were established: the United Soccer Association (USA) and the National Professional Soccer League. At the end of the year, these leagues were merged at the request of FIFA, forming the North American Soccer League (NASL). This newly established professional league had 18 teams by 1974 and it achieved a major success by signing the world's greatest footballer, Pelé, in 1975. Professional soccer as a spectator sport finally appeared to have taken root in America when a seven game contract was signed with national television in 1977. The NASL eventually collapsed, however, due to a combination of highly paid foreign stars, a failure to develop the game at grassroots level, the withdrawal of its sponsors, and falling gate receipts.

Soccer was revitalized once again during the early 1990s. In 1994 the United States hosted the World Cup for the first time. Three and a half million fans filled the stadia and broke all previous attendance records. For the first time in 64 years the USA progressed beyond the first round, eventually losing a creditable 1-0 to the team from Brazil. On the back of the World Cup the United States Soccer Federation set up Major League Soccer, promising a blend of home-grown talent, imported foreign stars, and audiences of 14,000 per game. The World Cup had proven that Americans could both play and watch soccer. Major investment in the sport, from companies such as Nike, has also boosted the popularity of soccer amongst Americans. In America, soccer is now played by both sexes and is a major participatory activity. Indeed, the USA's women's team is currently an Olympic champion. The men's team, however, has not fared so well. At the 1998 World Cup in France, they went out during the first round. The lowest point came when they were defeated 3-1 by Iran, a team who had never previously appeared in the World Cup Finals.

Despite the formation of domestic soccer leagues and international successes, soccer is somehow still not recognized as an American sport. Unlike football and baseball, it is not considered an American invention, but rather as the sport of immigrants. Undoubtedly, soccer has suffered from its lack of prime-time television coverage. Television sport schedules are virtually monopolized by the "big three": football, baseball, and basketball. This lack of exposure has continued to hinder soccer's development at the professional level, while overshadowing its thriving grassroots existence at a participatory level. Until soccer's television and earning power match that of the big three it will continue to remain in their shadows.

—Nathan Abrams

Further Reading:

Abrams, Nathan D. "Inhibited but not 'Crowded Out': The Strange Fate of Soccer in the United States." The International Journal of the History of Sport. Vol. 12, No. 3, December 1995, 1-17.

Foulds, Sam, and Paul Harris. America's Soccer Heritage: A History of the Game. California, Manhattan Beach, 1979.

Manzo, J. "A Ball in the Grass: An Explanatory Look at Soccer in the United States." Sport Place. Vol. 1, Winter 1987, 30-38.

Markovits, A. S. "The Other 'American Exceptionalism': Why IsThere No Soccer in the United States?" The International Journal of the History of Sport. Vol. 7, September 1990, 230-64.

Sugden, John. "USA and the World Cup: American Nativism and the Rejection of the People's Game." Hosts and Champions: Soccer Cultures, National Identities and the USA World Cup, edited by John Sugden and Alan Tomlinson. Aldershot, United Kingdom, Arena, 1994.

Waldstein, David, and Stephen Wagg. "UnAmerican Activity? Football in U.S. and Canadian Society." Giving the Game Away: Football, Politics and Culture on Five Continents, edited by Stephen Wagg. London and New York, Leicester University Press, 1995, 72-87.


views updated May 21 2018

soc·cer / ˈsäkər/ • n. a game played by two teams of eleven players with a round ball that may not be touched with the hands or arms during play except by the goalkeepers. The object of the game is to score goals by kicking or heading the ball into the opponents' goal.


views updated May 21 2018

soccer See football


views updated May 29 2018

soccer see -ER4.


views updated Jun 08 2018

soccer. See football.