Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism

offside cover

Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism, Andrei S. Markovits & Steven L. Hellerman

Upon first seeing the title, I read it as Exceptional-ism (ie look at how great America is), but after finishing the book, it should be read as Exception-alism.  The US sports landscape is much different than the rest of the world, and the book focuses on the reasons why this is.

The authors did an amazing job of tracing the development of American sports, including the cultural, sporting, financial and technological reasons for why the Big Three and a Half are at the forefront of sports in the United States.  The authors define the Big Three and a Half as American football, baseball, basketball and hockey as the major sports in America, and while their popularity has ebbed and flowed over the years, these sports impact culture and the media more than all others.

As for soccer, the authors looked at the many attempts that the game has made to gain a foothold and the reasons why these failed.  In summary the game failed to take advantage of several key moments at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, and put themselves in a hole from which it is hard to recover.  But with the hosting of the 1994 World Cup and the launch of the MLS, the authors posit that in time soccer could have a prominent role in American sports.  They are also quick to note the influence of the role of women—as fans, players and the Women’s National Team—on the growth of soccer in this country.

Although this book was written at the end of the 20th century and misses out the on the development of the MLS and the US Men’s National team over last 10 to 15 years, the analysis, research and commentary of the authors is interesting, thoughtful and illuminating.  I learned a lot about the Big Three and a Half and share the book’s optimistic view of the future of the game in America.  Good read about American sports regardless of which one you follow.

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