Growth of College Soccer
Adam Zundell
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Posted by Adam Zundell on Monday, September 21, 2009
(9:22 am)
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College soccer gets kind of a bad rap these days. Soccer snobs love to take cheap shots and tell you everything that is wrong with the game and can stick their nose in the air when they say … “And can you believe the clock counts down?”

Look, college soccer isn’t perfect. But instead of picking at the blemishes, I tend to focus on the positive. One of the big positives is that college soccer is a huge tool in helping grow the game in this country.

A little more than a decade ago when Major League Soccer (MLS) was getting started, people said it wouldn’t work – tried it once before, brought in Pele, failed. We’ve got real, American football. Go take your cute little shin guards somewhere else. The counter to that argument was that soccer had (and still has) huge numbers in participation at the youth level. MLS would be a place for young soccer players to become older soccer fans.

People thought that in order for soccer to make it, another sport would have to fall off the map. Not true. Believe it or not, you can still like the Steelers and the Columbus Crew and not be weird at all. Amazing.

MLS is still very much in its infancy as a league. The recent economic downturn not withistanding, the league has done pretty well in terms of attendance, interest and exposure. Most people know LA Galaxy is a soccer franchise and not a candy bar.

College soccer, I believe, has also helped bridge the gap in bringing fans along for both MLS and Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS). A college campus is the perfect location to cultivate a fun and lively atmosphere at a game. (Not quite rowdy, but lively.) Schools are seeing the sport as a worthwhile investment - and more dollars are put into the programs and marketing efforts. The fans are out there, and they now have an outlet to see a good product. (The soccer snobs will tell you it’s an inferior product, but then watch a third division German league game and describe it as if it was as beautiful as a Robert Frost poem.)

 
  More than 3,000 soccer fans showed up for West Virginia's home opener against UC Santa Barbara.
WVU Photograhpy/Allison Toffle photo

Almost every week you hear about a record crowd from various places around the country, and the season is just a few weeks old. Take West Virginia’s men’s team, for example. The Mountaineers set a program record with nearly 3,000 fans for their season opener a couple of weeks ago against UC Santa Barbara. Can you imagine what would that crowd would be like if that was an NCAA Tournament game?

People are excited about soccer and are embracing it at the collegiate level. This helps everyone. It helps the youth to aspire to be like the kids they see for the local team. It helps give college teams and programs a great atmosphere. It helps MLS or WPS as fans have soccer on their radar and are also familiar with top players as they move from college to the pros.

Don’t let the soccer snobs bring you down. Go out and enjoy the games.

***

If you were wondering about how UCSB enjoyed its trip to Morgantown, check this story out: http://tiny.cc/IoE7v.

Of course, there are the usual West Virginia stereotypes in the story, but the Gauchos (who have a roster that includes 12 foreign players from nine different countries) were pretty impressed with the atmosphere at the WVU-Liberty football game. UCSB does not play football, so for many it was their first experience of college football.

***

It’s amazing at how similar the Mountaineer men’s and women’s programs are here in 2009. Both squads are young and have no shortage of skillful attacking players, but have had some trouble finding the back of the net. The WVU women have nine goals in nine games, while the men have four goals in six games. But keep in mind that scoring a goal is hard (hey, that’s why the scores aren’t 25-20), and sometimes fickle.

Strangely enough, both programs likely match up better against high quality opponents. Soccer is such that a team with less talent can attempt to equalize the game by slowing things to a grind and make scoring even more difficult than it usually is.

But, when the talent level is close and the teams want to go at goal, it is more conducive to the attacking style coach LeBlanc and Coach Izzo-Brown employ. That’s why you shouldn’t be surprised that the Mountaineer women scored a pair against No. 5 Penn State, but couldn’t break through against Dartmouth.

Soccer, just like other sports, is all about the matchups.

» Follow WVUSports on Twitter
Adam Zundell joined the MSN team in 2008 as a television analyst for men�s and women�s soccer. Zundell�s involvement with college soccer spans nearly a decade, first working at West Virginia University and then serving as Assistant Director of Athletic Media Relations in charge of men�s soccer at the University of Maryland. Since 2006, Zundell has been a contributing soccer writer for ESPN.com. Zundell also contributes to CollegeSoccerNews.com, and hosts his own soccer talk show at Top DrawerSoccer.com. Zundell is presently the Director of Sports Information & Marketing at Fairmont State University.


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