Lionel Messi and the Rising Popularity of Soccer in the US
Unlike in Indonesia, in the United States soccer is not a popular sport. Its prestige is also lost to American football and basketball. However, coaches and football observers in the US are optimistic that the sport will become increasingly popular and develop, after one of the best footballers of all time, Lionel Messi, joined the Inter Miami club and played in Uncle Sam's country.
"Messi is the best!" exclaimed one of the spectators of the match between Inter Miami and Cruz Azul at the Drive Pink Stadium in the city of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to VOA, last Friday (21/7). Lionel Messi scored the winning goal for his new club, Inter Miami, in his first match in America.
“I love you Messi!” exclaimed another audience member.
The enthusiasm surrounding Messi's presence in the world of US football is also felt among young players around the city of Miami.
Brothers Lucas (12) and Diego Araujo (11), who are Argentine, both idolize Messi. Starting as a passion passed down from their father, the two of them have been practicing football since the age of three. Now each of them joins two different soccer clubs on the outskirts of Miami.
"I started playing when I was three years old and I started competing when I was five," Lucas told VOA (20/7) at their training location in the city of Pembroke Pines, Florida.
Meanwhile, when asked how they felt knowing Messi was joining Inter Miami, Diego answered, “I am very happy. I was lucky, of the millions of clubs out there, he chose here, to Miami.
Lucas and Diego's coach at the Trekkerz Performance Training youth football training center in South Florida, 40-year-old Kevin Chin, sees great potential for football in his region.
"There is great potential here, especially because there is a big South American influence," said Kevin. “We experienced an almost 300% increase in enrollment of children in our program.”
According to him, children's interest in football has increased after news spread about Messi's decision to move to America in recent weeks. Parents are also increasingly motivated to see this positive development.
“There will be more opportunities here in Miami Dade and Broward County. Just because of his presence, there is more media coverage, more investment coming in," he added.
Even though the popularity of soccer in the US is still less than that of American football and basketball, its growth has been the fastest compared to other sports over the last dozen years. While football, basketball and baseball are experiencing a downward trend, the number of people who choose football as the sport they like to watch most has more than tripled since 2007.
The Messi effect has not only affected young male players, but also female players, said Patricia Tomanon, 29, a women's soccer coach at Trekkerz. Messi's figure inspires them.
"Her style of play which is very technical and doesn't rely too much on physical attributes, which I also see in women's football matches, will play an important role in making women footballers see that, 'I don't have to be tall or strong, but just be smart and know the placement of my skills. me,'" said Pat, his nickname, to VOA on the same occasion. "That will be a big influence and it is already visible now," he said.
It should be noted that American women's football is more popular and has made a number of brilliant achievements on the international stage. Of the eight times the FIFA Women's World Cup has been held, the US national team has won the competition's main trophy four times.
Before Messi, a number of big players had stopped in America to continue their careers. But their roles are varied, said Victor Matheson, an economics professor at the College of Holy Cross, Massachusetts, who researches the economics of sports.
Pele, a Brazilian soccer legend who joined the Cosmos in New York in 1975, played a role in introducing soccer to a US audience that at that time was still 'blind' to the sport, said Matheson. Meanwhile, English soccer star David Beckham was instrumental in introducing the US Premier Soccer League, Major League Soccer (MLS), to the world, when he played for LA Galaxy in the 2007-2012 period.
“Maybe Messi doesn't have to be a football ambassador like others. He can just come in, have fun, attract a lot of people and just play, instead of taking on an important leadership role.”
What is clear is that the momentum of welcoming Messi with great fanfare should not be exploited further to build American football, said the owner of Prodigy Soccer Training and Pathway School, Christopher Munoz, 26 years old.
“For me, it felt like being hit by a tsunami. Messi is now in Miami, this is a big thing. We need to support it," he said. “We have to catch up and wake up people to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Munoz, who also serves as assistant coach at Inter Miami CF Academy, believes that the infrastructure and culture of football in America need to be developed. Without access to a field in the neighborhood, a football culture in society will not be developed.
Meanwhile, for Kevin Chin, apart from infrastructure, improving the quality of coaches and football education is absolutely necessary to develop the skills of young players in order to produce professional players.
"We also lack quality coaching, so we need more investment from experts in the field of training, to share their knowledge, because the enthusiasm is there, the culture is also there. "People are hungry for knowledge, but no one has come and really worked on it," said Chin.
At the 2022 World Cup in Qatar last December, the US national team had to settle for being stuck in the round of 16 after being beaten by the Netherlands. Meanwhile, the United States – along with Canada and Mexico – is now preparing to co-host the 2026 World Cup, where Argentina, the national team led by Messi last year, will defend its title as champion.
Messi himself will play with Inter Miami until December 2025.
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