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Zopf: Time to support soccer
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State playoffs

Osborne boys at Habersham Central, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday

Flowery Branch girls at Oconee County, 6:30 p.m. Thursday

Eastside girls at North Hall, TBA, Thursday

Riverside Military at GAC, 3:30 p.m. Friday

Gainesville boys at Stephens County, TBA, Friday

Johnson boys at Oconee County, 7:30 p.m. Friday

Franklin County boys at West Hall, 7 p.m. Friday

In Spanish it’s called “juego bonito,” which simply translates to the beautiful game.

Its biggest tournament draws a larger crowd and viewing audience than the Super Bowl, World Series and NCAA Tournament combined.

The service of its best players are bid upon at prices that even the New York Yankees couldn’t afford.

Yeah, the sport of soccer is a pretty big deal, just not here in the good old U.S. of A.

Step outside the boundaries of this country and soccer — er, football — is almost bigger than life itself. The sport’s fans are crazier than the 90,000 plus that fill college football stadiums during the fall, and most of those fans embrace their common nickname of “soccer hooligans.”

They sing, they chant, they cheer, and occasionally they get so riled up that they storm the field and assault a player or referee. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but that’s just how much they care.

But not here.

Football is king, baseball is a close second and basketball is a distant third. Now that I think about it, in some parts of the country a sport where guys (and some gals) get in cars and make left turns for four hours is a bigger deal than soccer. Is NASCAR more exciting than soccer? Probably. Is it a bigger sport? Hardly.

In fact, you could argue that there isn’t a bigger sport than soccer in the world, and that’s taking into account the miniscule amount of fans that are here in the United States. And that small amount won’t be growing anytime soon, despite the fact that soccer is the first sport that most athletes play.

With the youngest youth division starting for 3-year-olds, most kids lace up the cleats and run around a soccer field long before they can pick up a bat. But for most, soccer is just a starting point for the bigger sports.

Soon the long Saturdays at the soccer field are traded in for football, baseball and basketball. Highly talented athletes — even though they may be just 7 or 8 years old — are weened off of soccer and driven to play a sport that could possibly make them — and their parents — some money. If you’ve ever seen a televised Major League Soccer game you know there’s no money in soccer in the United States, and you have to play at an uber-elite level to play overseas where the $100 million contracts are.

That’s why most kids switch to football, baseball and basketball.

That and, to put it bluntly, soccer is too boring.

Living in an instant gratification society filled with drive-thru ATMs and on demand TV shows, sitting through a 1-0, or even worse, a 0-0 soccer game is painful for your average sports fan.

We need hits, touchdowns and highlight reel dunks to keep our attention. We need crashes at 120 mph and 90-yard kickoff returns to get our juices flowing. You don’t get that type of activity with soccer, but you don’t really need it.

Soccer is more than big hits and jaw-dropping plays. It’s strategy, timely offense and solid defense; you know, all the things you hate about the major sports you follow.

The lack of interest in soccer is most prevalent at the high school level, and this week several area teams will find that out first hand when they play in the state tournament in front of less than 100 fans.

That type of turnout would never happen for football, basketball or baseball, and it shouldn’t happen for soccer.

The kids out on the field are putting in just as much effort as their counterparts in the Big Three, but no one is there to see it.
If they were there, they would see a group of kids laying it all on the line for a shot at a state title. They’ll see kids strategically placing passes to their teammates, taking hard shot attempts on goal, and playing with so much emotion and energy that often times they are handed a yellow card and told to harness that energy.

And after the game, those fans would see those same kids join hands, run across the field and applaud the people that came out to support them.

They appreciate your support, and more people need to be there to give it to them.

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