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Friday, June 27, 2008
Last year Hollywood icons Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson teamed up for an inspirational film entitled "The Bucket List."

The plot of the movie revolves around two elderly gentleman diagnosed with terminal cancer who escape from their hospital ward and embark on a series of adventures designed to accomplish objectives before they "kick the bucket."

The premise of this movie is rather simplistic but also ingenious in the sense that each person who views the movie innately comes up with a list of their own aspirations they'd like to fulfill before they depart this earth.

Atop the Bucket List of yours truly is to witness the United States win the World Cup Trophy, either in person or on television, at a stage in my life where I am still mentally capable of appreciating its magnitude.

South Africa 2010 will quickly identify the current crop of American starlets, but unfortunately in my heart of hearts I don't believe we are capable of contending for the championship in two years time.

The adoption of a long term approach is required for sustained success at an elite level, but I also believe there are some short term initiatives that could be implemented to help United States soccer grow at a more expedient rate than it currently enjoys

The key to the future growth and inevitable blossoming of American soccer must come from this country's urban megacities.

Soccer is still widely perceived as a sport of the suburbs, comprised of individuals that lack the physical tenacity or toughness to play football, the American embodiment of machismo according to the majority of this country's male populace. Television commercials for minivans or SUVs continue to inundate us with the stereotypical "soccer mom" behind the wheel, making sure that her athletic sons arrive to practice in a Roy Keane-esque punctual manner.

Americans acutely knowledgeable with the sport of soccer know this characterization to be highly inaccurate yet seem to respond to these types of stereotypical portrayals with apathy instead of action. That ends right now.

Urban initiatives such as those currently undertaken by the United States Soccer Foundation are a good way to start making the sport grow, but further action is required to help us compete for the World Cup. Increased donations of funds from Major League Soccer would be a huge step in the right direction in my opinion.

MLS franchises are located in some of America's most diverse cities, but the stadiums themselves are often times situated in suburbs like Carson, Commerce City, and East Rutherford. If Major League Soccer could invest in some transportation initiatives to allow America's inner city youth access to see America's best players in action in person I believe the sport would see a significant growth in overall interest.

The decline in popularity of baseball in the urban areas should also be seen as a key point of exploitation for American soccer fans. There will always be an element of America's inner cities that gravitate toward basketball and football, but that still leaves plenty of potential world-class athletes that can be kept away from the diamond and brought onto the field.

The arrival of soccer superstar David Beckham to the Los Angeles Galaxy has the potential to be a turning point for the popularity of the sport because of his global magnanimity.

Even Americans completely oblivious to the sport of soccer prior to last year were very familiar with Mr. Posh Spice and if Beckham continues to perform at an elite level out in Los Angeles for a few more years the youth of America will finally have an iconic figure to aspire to that doesn't play football or basketball.

The continued influx of Hispanics into the United States also represents enormous market potential for American soccer for generations to come. Hispanics now comprise roughly 15% of the overall United States population, with an estimated 45.5 million Hispanics living in America as of a 2007 census estimate.

The acquisition of Cuahtemoc Blanco by the Chicago Fire has elevated the status of MLS amongst the Mexican populace and once again given children a role model to look up to. A famous old adage states that "there is no such thing as negative publicity" and while a significant number of American soccer fans despise Blanco courtesy of his accolades with the Mexican National Team they also recognize his importance to the overall growth of the American game.

Tremendous economic opportunities abroad also comprise a significant cog in what I would like to describe as America's World Cup Success Wheel. There is a notable misconception amongst many Americans that soccer is undesirable as a career sports ambition because it doesn't pay as much as American sports do. As my boy Vince Vaughn exclaimed so eloquently in "Wedding Crashers," "Erroneous!"

Europe's elite clubs could make inroads into the American soccer market by demonstrating the salary potential available for the world's soccer superstars. Most Americans would incorrectly assume that the New York Yankees are the most valuable franchise in professional sports when in fact that distinction belongs to Manchester United. Gordon Gecko once told us all that "Greed is good, greed is right, greed works" and the lure of riches, whether they are accumulated in the United States or Europe, is powerful enough to convince any human that any sport is worthy of participation.

Increased television exposure is the last important piece required to solve the American soccer enigma. The three main soccer networks currently on American television are Fox Soccer Channel, Setanta Sports and GolTV, which usually require a premium cable subscription to obtain.

I firmly believe that American soccer could grow exponentially if ESPN acquired rights to the English Premier League. There are rumors swirling that ESPN Europe will engage in a bidding war with Sky to acquire EPL broadcast rights in Europe, but if they could extend that coverage into the United States I believe a miniature soccer explosion would ensue. Saturday mornings on ESPN2 are currently comprised of outdoor hunting and fishing shows and there is no doubt in my mind that ratings would improve substantially if EPL soccer supplanted that programming.

ESPN MLS Primetime Thursday is a positive step toward the future growth of American soccer, but a giant leap for mankind would take place if America's youth got to see the best of the best play soccer week in and week out and only European soccer offers that sort of potential. The demise of boxing from the American sporting landscape transpired when Main Events were taken off major networks and moved onto Pay-Per-View and I believe that an inverse reaction could take place with soccer.

The current crop of American stars are probably incapable of winning a World Cup, but that statement does not have to apply to their offspring. The future sons of Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, and Tim Howard may have the chance to become superstars because their fathers dared to venture abroad and play the game at its highest level.

American sports, especially basketball and baseball, have seen enormous growth in overall talent in recent years thanks to the globalization of those games in Europe and South America, respectively. There is no reason to believe that soccer cannot have the same impact on America. The next Pele, Maradona or Zidane is probably harnessing his skills somewhere on an American soccer field right now, but without the proper promotion of the sport domestically there is a realistic danger he could become the next Jim Brown instead.

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