I have two big hobbies in my life. The first is Soccer. It drives my wife nuts, I can watch any game (from Women’s College, to kids bronze, to Champion’s league). My DVR is full of games to watch or watch again. There have been times when my oldest (he’s 16) and I have been watching a game and we start talking about what’s going to happen next and she’ll realize we are watching a repeat. Like I said it drives her nuts.
My other hobby, and in some ways even more fun, is craft beer. At one time I brewed my own, but after a couple of moves and as the kids grew older I ran out of time and space and got rid of my homebrew kit. Living in San Diego its no true loss as there are literally dozens of different sized micro-brews scattered across the county. The smallest only sell on-site, the biggest are building breweries in Germany.
While enjoying a Stone Brewing Company Enjoy By 10/15/15 IPA I started to think about the state of beer making in this country and how it compares to soccer.
I’ve made the comparison before on twitter. (I know I’m not the only one, it is a common analogy) But when you look at it you can see the obvious connections. Right now the United States is dominated by one Soccer Brewery, Major League Soccer, who serves up one basic style of American Lager. There may be some minor regional differences, but every stadium offering MLS soccer basically serves the same pale brew. There is no room for a different brew, in fact there can’t be by the very nature of the salary structure in the league. A team can’t go out and acquire high level journeymen to implement different styles of soccer because they are limited in the way they pay their players (I am going to ignore the underlying reality that MLS holds all player contracts).
There is nothing wrong with American lager. A lot of people worldwide enjoy the style of beer. The biggest breweries in the world make Budweiser and Miller beer, but only having one option makes for a poor choice. In the early 1980’s, the Craft Beer movement began in the United States with 8 breweries. They persevered and paved the way to the current industry where 3,500 craft brewers now serve 1 of every 10 beers in the United States. In San Diego alone there are at least 115 craft brewers of all shapes and sizes with more on the way.
What’s that have to do with soccer? Everything. Right now American soccer is in the 1980’s of the craft beer movement. Even with the vast limitations in the ability for smaller soccer outlets to grow (lack of promotion relegation), there are groups out there seeking to bring different brands of soccer to their local communities. In San Diego County alone there are two WPSL teams (The San Diego Sea Lions and Xolos Women), two NPSL (San Diego Flash and FC Force) and one SoCal Premier League team (Chula Vista FC) who won 2 games in the last US Open Cup (finally losing to Sacramento Republic FC). All of these teams have plans to grow but are limited by the nature of US Soccer.
San Diego is also home to huge youth clubs. Clubs like Surf Soccer, Albion SC and Nomads (actually a small club with long history in SoCal, its alumni include National Team players and they once had a team that played in the WSA, WSL, and APSL) are all members of the United States Soccer Development Academy. Kids from these clubs have played at all levels of our national teams and are scattered across our nation’s professional and semi-professional teams. The Xolos, from Tijuana, are constantly scouting in the area and recently signed a cooperation agreement with Nomads.
San Diego has a long history of soccer teams ranging from the Jaws, Sockers and Toros who all played in the NASL, Gauchos (USL), Spirit (WUSA), Sunwaves (USL-W), SD United (NPSL, and USL-W), Southern California Fusion (NPSL), and Top Guns (USISL). The Sockers were the most famous as the last surviving NASL franchise (playing both NASL and NASL indoor, before dominating the MiSL), they have been reincarnated as an indoor team in the MASL.
It is obvious that the desire for soccer in the region is constant. Despite the horrible way leagues and the Nation’s Federation have run things for the last hundred years, people continue to try to bring the Beautiful Game to the area. Why haven’t they succeeded? Perhaps because all we are really allowed to have is Bud Light. No one can make a triple hopped San Diego Style IPA in the soccer world. They are limited to setting up a Hooters and serving bad wings and overpriced domestic beer.
If the Federation opened the pyramid we would see the craft beers of the soccer world. Maybe Chula Vista FC, full of kids from the low-income neighborhoods of Chula Vista and Imperial Beach, could grow into something big. Perhaps San Diego Flash with their plans to re-brand and build a stadium at the old Balboa stadium site could gain traction and rise through the levels.
Breweries fail and soccer teams may too, but here in San Diego there is proof at the tap that we have an appetite for better beer, and I think we have the same appetite for better soccer.
In 1996, I was sitting at the bar in my cousin’s restaurant when a guy came in carrying a 5 gallon keg on his back. He offered us a taste of the beer he was trying to get restaurants to carry. It was my first taste of Stone Brewing Company’s Pale Ale and I told my cousin he should put that on tap. Today, Stone Brewing Company is the 14th largest brewery in the United States and is opening a brewery in Berlin, Germany. A local brewery who didn’t even bottle their own beer, now is directly competing in the strictest (and possibly toughest) beer market in the world. Don’t our soccer teams deserve the same chance?