Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism

By Andrei S. Markovits; Steven L. Hellerman | Go to book overview

Five
From the North American Soccer League to
Major League Soccer

UNLIKEthe NASL, by omitting the definite article and calling itself “Major League Soccer,” this new league wanted to convey to the world that—just like Major League Baseball—it stood for the apogee of the sport of soccer in the United States: alone, uncontested, unchallenged, at the very top, (perhaps even) permanent. This nomenclature can be seen as signification of the very first time that soccer in America had assumed at least a modicum of organizational rationality and institutional clarity, in which Major League Soccer embodied the apex of a pyramidal structure whose subordinate parts had a direct relationship to each other, as well as with the top.

Whatever the eventual outcome regarding the establishment of soccer as a fifth major sport in the United States, there can be little doubt that the thirty-year period under consideration in this chapter witnessed an immense metamorphosis in soccer's American presence from the sport's previous century-long existence in the United States; providing organizational clarity was a major step. During these three decades, soccer experienced a quantitative growth in America that—as is always the case—had major qualitative implications whose eventual destiny remains completely unclear at the time of this writing. To be sure: Soccer failed to rival baseball, basketball, football, and hockey in terms of presenting any serious challenge to the hegemonic positions that these four continue to enjoy in America's sport space at the turn of the millennium. Yet, at the same time, soccer has entered the American vernacular to a degree not known in the United States until the late 1980s and early 1990s. The term “soccer mom” became accepted American parlance during this period, while the usual banter that has come to characterize nightly newscasts on local television often includes exhortations directed at the weatherman to bring blue skies for the kids' soccer game on the weekend. The word “soccer” no longer evokes foreignness, as it had for a century. Instead, it has managed to become quite American in the course of these thirty years, mainly associated with kids, women, moms, dads, recreation, participation—in short, wholesome activity. The most convincing fact of soccer's complete acceptance by the American vernacular in the course of the last two decades of the twentieth century has been its ubiquity in advertising,

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