Soccer for Suckers 

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It matters not whether the proposed $60 million Major League Soccer stadium lands in Murray or Salt Lake City. That’s because the prime mover behind its construction, Dave Checketts’ Major League Soccer franchise Real Salt Lake, will stimulate Salt Lakers only slightly more than your usual dose of sleeping pills.

Disregard the stadium’s price tag, which is actually rather reasonable put alongside the price of most sports stadiums. Disregard the fact that Checketts and Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson want taxpayers to put up half the stadium’s $60 million construction bill, plus other expenses that could reach $15 million. Regard, however, the fact that virtually everyone talks about the proposed stadium for all the wrong reasons. We could be discussing the impending excitement an MLS franchise will bring to our city. We aren’t. Instead, the stadium’s proponents tout its impact on a part of town badly in need of a shot of adrenaline. When Salt Lake City councilmembers talk about the stadium, they talk about “economic development,” or “a community asset.” It’s as if the word “soccer team” is best left unsaid, like an exotic food people talk about, but no one dare sample.

Outside of the United States, “football,” as it’s more popularly known, is really a helluva lot of fun. People shout themselves hoarse over it, destroy house furniture over it, fly through the roof when their team wins, threaten, injure, and even kill supporters for the opposing team. After a qualifying round for the 1970 World Soccer Cup between El Salvador and Honduras, the two countries went to war in a conflict that claimed 2,000 lives. Some of the Clash’s best songs were modeled after footballers’ chants. In 1985, after the death of 39 people in Brussels’ Heysel Stadium, British fans or “hooligans” were banned from the Continent. During a trip to England, I witnessed Manchester United fans boarding a train to Leeds with police escort. That’s right, before they even arrived at the game. In the famous words of one British coach, “Football is not a matter of life and death. It’s much more important than that.”

Here at home, we can hardly be bothered with a sport stretching maybe a handful of points, at most, over the space of so much empty time. It was no big friggin’ deal when our national team beat England 2-0 in 1993’s U.S. Cup competition, even if the English died of national embarrassment. Here the sport is best left to suburban moms with thermoses of hot chocolate and time enough to watch their children run up and down a grassy field kicking a ball. Not even Pelé himself could light our passion for soccer when he signed with the New York Cosmos in 1975. Give us a game like basketball, where the points might reach into 100 mark. Like fast food, basketball satisfies our national obsession with quantity over quality.

As councilmembers come together to discuss the idea and policy experts warm up their numbers, you can already feel our city’s tepid enthusiasm for soccer freezing over. MLS in Salt Lake City might indeed be “neat,” “fun,” or “pretty cool,” but no one’s talking about the impending excitement of soccer itself. How about another ice cream shop downtown to rile the masses?

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