I thank Steve Hammer for writing on soccer ("Why Does America Hate Soccer?" July 18-25). I'm glad to see that Steve has come to embrace a sport that many Americans, including me, already love.
While I agree with some of the sentiments that Steve expresses in his column, I'd also like to take issue with some of his conclusions, particularly because I've been following soccer in this country since the early 1990s and have seen how far the sport has come since then.
First, to say that Americans "suck" at soccer is to be overly simplistic. There's no question that the U.S. National Team has not been able to consistently compete with soccer's big guns and that the team's World Cup performances have been unconvincing in two of the last four World Cups. But Steve neglected to mention that our World Cup squad qualified for the knockout stages of the 1994 World Cup and were quarterfinalists in the 2002 World Cup, narrowly missing the semifinals after outplaying Germany. Furthermore, the U.S. has qualified for five straight World Cups, which is no easy task in itself.
Second, MLS really doesn't need a savior and is a better league than it is given credit for. While the "experts" whose analysis Steve relies upon claim that MLS teams would struggle against English League 2 teams, I've read articles in which other "experts" claim that the top MLS teams could survive in the English Premier League, which is the country's top tier league. So who's correct? The fact is that we won't ever know unless an MLS side competes in one of these leagues for a full season, and that's not going to happen.
Finally, as I mentioned above, millions of Americans already love soccer. No sensible American soccer fan would ever claim that the sport will overtake "the big three" American sports in popularity. But more Americans watched the World Cup last year than ever before. The 2006 World Cup final had better television ratings than most games of the 2006 NBA Finals. More Americans watched the CONCACAF Gold Cup final last month (the championship of our World Cup qualifying region, which the U.S. won by beating Mexico) than the Stanley Cup Finals. There are now three television channels in this country devoted almost exclusively to soccer. And ESPN is throwing its weight behind MLS broadcasts this year, primarily because of David Beckham's presence.
In closing, by bringing Beckham to MLS, the league doesn't seek a mass conversion of "average American sports fans" into soccer lovers. Rather, MLS is aiming straight at the millions of Americans who already like soccer but don't follow MLS closely or at all. We'll know whether this tactic has worked in at least five years time, when Beckham's contract with the L.A. Galaxy expires.