Stamping out stubborn myths of soccer in the United States

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About a week ago I shared a conference room with other journalists, cameramen and MLS commissioner Don Garber, who answered questions about the new stadium going up downtown and what it means to the professional game in the States.

In that room I found sad reminders that so many myths and stereotypes remain attached to the game – incorrect assumptions about professional soccer that stubbornly prevail.

Myth No. 1: That soccer still needs to “make it.”

Here’s a question straight from the 1992 journalists handbook: “When will soccer ‘make it?’ ” The thin query usually gets asked by a general news reporter or a newspaper columnist who doesn’t have sufficient depth of knowledge to ask a more pertinent question.

I always think the same thing: I’d like to query the questioner, “When will Thai food ‘make it’ here?’  You know, it’s not as big as Chinese food! It’s got to ‘make it.’ Right?

The reporter would probably say, “Well, it is what it is. What does it matter whether Thai food or Chinese food is bigger?”

Exactly.

It’s certainly fair if we want to discuss market share in the U.S. sports scene, or the competition for marketing dollars or strategies for cracking hard-to-reach consumer demographics, etc. But generally, the game is growing apace and doesn’t need to “make it.”  That’s just kind of silly.

Myth No. 2: The marketing model is still about selling to families

I suppose the soccer world is more insular than I sometimes understand.  People who follow the game understand how the professional game’s marketing strategies shifted so significantly about five years ago. It’s all about 20- and 30-somethings, about creating “real” fans. It’s about making the club matter, establishing a base of supporters who truly care about club, who rejoice at wins and sulk forlornly at setbacks.

It’s hasn’t been about suburban families looking for something to do on a Saturday night for a few years now – not in most markets, anyway.

But I forget that a substantial number of U.S. consumers don’t live in MLS markets – so we’ll need more time to kill off those old school beliefs about the tired marketing models. Because the questions about families and suburbs and pro soccer are still out there.

Myth No. 3: That professional soccer’s success and acceptance of the game at a greater level are inextricably linked.

Two words: they aren’t.

Major League Soccer is the game’s most visible property, so I get this one, that pro soccer is frequently linked to the development of the game at a broader level.

I get it, but that doesn’t make it any less incorrect.

Soccer as a game is what it is. It’s a popular activity, a great sport for kids, a staple of many ethnic communities, a sport with burgeoning awareness at international level, etc.

Now, “professional soccer” still has scads of room to grow – but that’s a different matter altogether. “Soccer” as a sport has ample societal acceptance here. (Who really cares if a few older white guys with a certain media influence still want to bluster about a “boring” game; there were more of them 10 years ago, there will be even fewer of them in 10 years to come. Believe me on this one.)

“Soccer” is not going away in the United States – no matter how fast or slow the game develops at professional level.

I suppose, all things considered, I should be happy that old guard general sports columnists and pretty news anchors don’t still ask if we should widen the doggone goals in order to promote greater American acceptance? I do believe, at very least, that we’ve finally killed off that one.

French league terminates goal-line technology contract

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PARIS (AP) The French football league has terminated the contract with its goal-line technology provider after a series of glitches.

The LFP had already suspended the use of GoalControl, the German system that was deployed at the 2014 World Cup.

According to L’Equipe newspaper, the league will launch a tender in February to find a new provider of the technology that determines whether the ball crossed the line.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

In recent months, the French league had repeatedly expressed its discontent with GoalControl.

Goal-line technology entered soccer after a goal was wrongly disallowed at the 2010 World Cup.

FIFA is already focused on fast-tracking the next phase of technology – video assistant referees – for the World Cup in June.

Goal-line technology and VAR were provided by Hawk-Eye at the Confederations Cup last year.

Bristol City’s Johnson: “They certainly have heard of us now”

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The Premier League world may see Bristol City next season, but it seems its manager has the personality to arrive on the top flight whether or not his Robins earn promotion this season.

Johnson, 36, earned plenty of plaudits after leading his Championship club to the League Cup semifinals, famously defeated Manchester United in the quarters.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Before that, Bristol beat Premier League sides Crystal Palace, Stoke City, and Watford. The Robins beat third tier Plymouth Argyle 5-0 in the first round.

Johnson was beaming after the Robins took Man City to the edge, closing to within a goal of extra time before Kevin De Bruyne‘s stoppage time number ended the tie 5-3 on aggregate.

“Absolutely I’m proud. It’s not just tonight but over the course of the season, particularly the cup run. It was a fantastic occasion, I’m sorry we couldn’t get the win but we played against the best side that I have ever seen live. They have so many good individuals.

“We kept going and it’s taken two injury-time goals to beat us. They certainly have [heard of us] now…everybody knows what we’re about. It’s been great.”

Bristol City is in the Championship’s fifth place, bidding for its first top flight campaign since 1980. Johnson should be a hot prospect to earn a shot in the Premier League should the Robins not make the jump.

League Cup semifinal preview: Arsenal vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 4-of-7 League Cup matches vs. Arsenal
  • Arsenal leads all-time series 74W-58D-62L
  • Clubs have drawn four times this season

Hardware hopes are on the line when Chelsea hits the Emirates Stadium for a League Cup semifinal second leg with Arsenal on Wednesday.

The sides drew 0-0 at Stamford Bridge, giving Chelsea the advantage of knowing a scoring draw would do the trick and set up a date with Manchester City at Wembley on Feb. 25, though Arsenal has home field advantage in pursuit of a win.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Henrikh Mkhitaryan may debut for Arsenal, though the club released an interesting note on Tuesday: He’ll wear No. 7 in most competitions, but will have to use a different number in the Europa League because Alexis Sanchez wore it to start the tournament.

Chelsea’s Antonio Conte won’t have Alvaro Morata (back) and Cesc Fabregas for the match, though Andreas Christensen will be available for selection.

The clubs are no strangers to each other in big non-PL spots, squaring off in this season’s Community Shield (Arsenal won in penalty kicks) and last season’s FA Cup Final (Arsenal won).

Nothing has separated the sides on the field aside from those penalty kicks at Wembley Stadium, as Arsenal and Chelsea have drawn 1-1, 0-0, 2-2, and 0-0 since August.

What they’re saying

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger on Henrikh Mkhitaryan“He can play in different positions, but personally I see him first in a wide position, but I’m thinking about him a possibility to play through the middle. You are certain in our job of nothing, that’s absolutely sure. But you believe and I believe he has the qualities to do well, is a team player and our game is based on team attitude and movement and I think he can absorb the quantity of movement in our team.”

Chelsea’s Conte on the lineup: “Every game is different, you change the quality of your opponent and you must be intelligent enough to understand if you should continue with the same players or make some changes.”

Javier Mascherano leaving Barcelona after 8 seasons

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano is leaving the club after eight seasons.

Barcelona says there will be a farewell ceremony on Wednesday with Mascherano, club president Josep Bartomeu and the rest of the squad.

[ MORE: Man City to buy $86m CB ]

The 33-year-old Argentina international will say goodbye to the fans before Thursday’s game against Espanyol at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. He is reportedly going to play in China.

Mascherano, who also played as a defensive midfielder, arrived in Barcelona in 2010 from Liverpool and helped the Catalan club win 18 titles. He has made 334 appearances with Barcelona, but recently hadn’t been playing much.

The club earlier this month signed Colombia international Yerry Mina to boost its defense.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga