Long before anyone ever bent it like Beckham, early versions of soccer emerged in ancient China, Japan, Greece, Italy and Persia. A Chinese text from approximately 50 B.C., now safely stored at the Munich Ethnological Museum in Germany, describes a game identical to soccer that involved kicking a ball around a small field. The early Olympic Games also featured a game somewhat similar to modern soccer, and both Romans and Greeks sometimes used the game to prepare their warriors for battle.
Ironically, soccer was officially banned for about 300 years in England before that country eventually introduced the game to the rest of the world. What has become the most popular game on earth was shaped there in the 1860s, when soccer and rugby split into two different sports. The first English Football Association was born in October 1863 when representatives from 11 London clubs met at the Freemason Tavern and outlined the game’s fundamental rules.
In May 1904, representatives from seven countries — Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland — united in Paris to form the first international soccer association: Fédération Internationale de Football Association. FIFA still organizes and governs major international soccer tournaments, the most renowned of which, the FIFA World Cup, has been held since 1930.
America was one of the first British colonies to adopt a game similar to soccer, as evidenced by records of tournaments at major colleges and universities in the Northeast. The sport grew among the working class and was seen as a way of keeping energetic youth out of trouble. Soccer slowly spread to major cities such as Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis and Pittsburg.
The United States Football Association (USFA), now referred to as the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) was established in April 1913, and had the honor of being one of the earliest members of FIFA. During the 1930 FIFA World Cup, the U.S. men’s team placed third, its biggest international accomplishment to date.
Soccer in the United States had its ups and downs until 1994, when the country hosted the FIFA World Cup for the first time. It was then that soccer fever truly swept across America. The FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1999 and 2003 also added to the game’s popularity in the U.S. Today, the U.S. women’s team is ranked the best in the world by the FIFA women’s world rankings.
As part of the United States’ bid to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup, the country founded Major League Soccer (MLS) in 1993. These days, the development of professional soccer in the United States is in the hands of the MLS.
Just Kiddin’ Around
It’s safe to say Columbia is a soccer town. Around here, there are many different ways to get involved at a variety of skill levels.
Founded in 1975, Columbia Soccer Club is the city’s oldest soccer organization and one of the Midwest’s top youth soccer programs. Its recreational focus provides the opportunity for anyone age 5 to 18 years old to enjoy being part of a team. Those who seek a more challenging experience can also join more difficult programs called The Academy and Pride, which focus on honing soccer techniques.
“In the States, we place the emphasis on winning at an early age, which burns out the kids. In our club, we are trying to fix that and emphasize more skill development at an early age,” says Columbia Soccer Club Executive Director Ryan Burke.
Terry Cavin founded Columbia’s first all-girls competitive league in 1994, the same year the United States hosted the FIFA World Cup. Called Carrera Soccer Club, Cavin’s organization is currently made up of 13 girls’ teams of players ranging in age from 10 to 18 years old.
Cavin recognized that the game of soccer naturally appealed to youth.
“Soccer is an easy sport to play when you’re little,” he says. “Put shirts on the kids and let them play. It’s a very simple game. There’s one thing that attracts the kids, and it’s the ball. Try to explain baseball to a 6-year-old — it’s harder than explaining soccer,” he says.
At MAC Soccer, which was founded seven years ago, Director Adam Booth places an emphasis on life lessons learned through the game. “In soccer, you have to learn to live with your decisions,” he says.
The developmental program at MAC Soccer is unique.
“We believe that soccer should be taught to everybody, not only chosen people and athletes,” Booth says. He believes there is more to soccer than just kicking the ball in the right direction; soccer, he says, is a great way to help kids reach their full potential while teaching them to control their emotions and that it’s OK to lose. It is a sport for which each player must focus on preparation and improving his or her technical skills, but it is the team effort that counts.
“The match is the ultimate masterpiece,” Booth says.
“In soccer, it’s about creativity,” says Shaunna Daugherty, assistant women’s soccer coach at the University of Missouri.
The game is played all over the field at any given point, not only where the ball is. To play creatively is to know where to place yourself, how to be useful and how to develop the play. When done well, one can see the beauty of the combinations and goals. There’s a game within the game, as simple or as complex as a mathematical formula, and the more kids play, the better they understand the game’s complexities.
Some players who stick with the sport are drawn by its depth and seek constant improvement, eventually gaining the chance to play college soccer. Many scholarships are offered to skillful players who love the sport and are willing to take it to the next level.
Such is the case for many of the players in Mizzou’s women’s soccer program, which was started 15 years ago by head coach Bryan Blitz. It is currently among the top 25 soccer programs in the country.
“In five years we want to win the national championship,” Daugherty says.
College soccer is so popular and competitive that many schools are recruiting internationally to secure players such as Steven Crane from Manchester, England, and Gary McColl from Edinburgh, Scotland, both of whom play for Missouri Valley College. These young, international players often find it appealing to study in the United States while simultaneously getting the chance to play at the college level.
“Soccer is the best sport in the world. Many people love the game and treat it as a religion,” Crane says. “It is developing really fast in the States. When I first came over, I didn’t know how good the standard would be; however, I can now say the game is played at a very high level and it’s great to be a part of it,” he says.
McColl opines that the United States is one of only a few places in the world where collegiate sports are played at a truly high standard. “I feel soccer’s reputation is definitely increasing throughout the country,” he says. “The MLS is also growing stronger and attracting some major players from around the world.”
Show ‘Em The Money
More than ever, Columbia children are interested in playing soccer. “Everyone grows up playing soccer for at least a year, both boys and girls,” Daugherty says.
The element that’s missing is people who are willing to invest in these kids and the future of the sport through sponsorships. The lack of money is the main reason leagues fold and competition disappears.
Today, major revenue-generating sports such as college football and basketball receive far more financial backing from the public than soccer.
“Nobody will do anything for fun,” Cavin says.
But as in any other sport, it takes money to put on soccer tournaments and build facilities. A club needs roughly $16,000 to pay for a single tournament, for example, and that money does not necessarily pour in the way it sometimes does for other sports. Soccer’s lack of support leads to a lack of revenue, a vicious cycle soccer players find frustrating.
Cavin cites a former Carrera player as an example of a talented person in search of better soccer opportunities. The player, an MU graduate who played four years of college soccer, is currently a member of a semipro league in New York. She is hoping for a contract with a professional team in Europe because her options are limited in the United States.
“We have to try to keep local kids local and help them develop,” Daugherty says.
The Future Of American Soccer
Youthful players are passionate, energetic and eager to play soccer, and at the moment, the professional U.S. soccer team is on the right track, competing well and even beating some of the best teams in the world. If support for soccer improves, this country could see better leagues, more competition and superior opportunities for professional soccer in America.
It’s a good thing, too, because soccer’s long tradition clearly indicates the sport isn’t going anywhere. From ancient China to modern-day Columbia, soccer is king.
Soccer For Grown-Ups
If you score goals in your sleep every night after picking up your child from soccer practice, maybe you should act on that impulse.
Columbia is home to the International Soccer League, open to players from 20 to 50 years old. Anyone who wants to have fun and play some soccer is welcome to do so on Sundays at Cosmo Park.
“It’s mostly for fun,” Columbia Soccer Club director Burke says.
The kids aren’t the only ones who get to scream and celebrate after a goal around here.
Lend A Hand
The Jeff W. Tyler Youth Soccer Foundation is a nonprofit organization that began last July in mid-Missouri. Supporting the organization is a great way to offer a hand to a future soccer star.
The foundation honors the late Dr. Jeff Tyler, an enthusiastic “soccer dad” and faculty member in the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine who died suddenly in May 2009. Established to carry out Tyler’s vision of making competitive soccer accessible for any child who wants to participate, the foundation’s goal is to provide funding for youth who can’t afford to play soccer. Support includes club participation fees and uniform costs. Coaches identify players eligible for support and the foundation reimburses clubs directly for fees and expenses. Already, 18 children have received funding from the organization.
For more information, or to make a contribution, contact the Jeff W. Tyler Youth Soccer Foundation at 601 Arbor Drive, Columbia, MO 65201. All funds collected go directly to support youth soccer scholarships.