One of my favorite pastimes while scrolling through the internet or reading the countless magazines that count me as a subscriber is keeping an eye out for the ubiquitous “The Best of (fill in the blank)” lists.
It doesn’t matter the subject, I enjoy discovering what are the elite places and things — from apple pie recipes to zoo displays featuring elephants — that warrant my attention. These lists eliminate the guesswork involved with making life’s decisions and set the stage for recognizing the best to offer from every corner of the globe.
A particularly interesting list came to light late last week that focused on identifying the best community for soccer in the country, a ceremonial title that comes with the aptly named “Soccer City USA” slogan. For years I was led to believe that the city of Portland, Oregon was deserving of the award — after all, their self-proclaimed moniker has been in general use since the mid-‘70’s — but often wondered what basis was used to grant that honor.
At last, one of my biggest curiosities in the sport of soccer has been answered, and the result was as pleasing to me as it was surprising. Ladies and gentleman, in an exhaustive scientific study commissioned by none other than The Oregonian newspaper, San Jose is the rightful winner of the title Soccer City USA.
I must say it is great to put to rest the argument that provokes friendly, and sometimes competitive, banter among soccer fans across our fine nation of which city is the real Soccer City USA. No more will I need to listen to the incessant whining of supporters in the Pacific Northwest telling me they live in the heartland of American soccer. Proudly, I can answer the question “Do you know the way to San Jose?” by encouraging all inquisitors to follow the bouncing Jabulani soccer balls of Major League Soccer, top-division college, and scores of youth and adult leagues to the heart of Silicon Valley.
The Oregonian survey used a variety of metrics to rank all 15 MLS markets in the U.S. At the core of this analysis was numerical data from the professional and college game, weighted for the total population of those subject cities. The emphasis was on match attendance and championship-level success stretching back to the NASL days, counting up current and former players in MLS and the U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Teams, and measuring the strength of supporters groups and television ratings. Not the most important factor, but one that I suspect helped push San Jose to the top of the list, factored in youth and adult participation at the local level.
From first-hand experience, I can tell you of the vast numbers of South Bay citizens that play soccer on fields and parks throughout the greater San Jose area. The pee-wee ranks get started at the tender age of 4 and 5 years old, while senior leagues feature players still going well into their retirement years. Very few swathes of green grass go unused by soccer players in the Silicon Valley, so much so that new fields are being created all over the South Bay at the expense of other sporting facilities.
An informal search of the opportunities available for an “experienced” player of my age yielded over a dozen adult leagues within 10 miles of my home. Competitive divisions, more relaxed divisions, short-sided leagues, even co-ed teams play host to countless mature North County residents. While I am already active in my hometown league, my wife — also an avid soccer player and fan — has already made inquiries into signing us up for a co-ed team that plays nearby. Call us one of the myriad soccer families espousing the sport here in the San Jose area; we’ll never deny our passion for watching and playing the beautiful game.
The story in my household is mirrored in countless homes throughout the South Bay. The children play and the parents often volunteer to coach, and, most importantly, everyone has fun. Earning the title Soccer City USA gets its start in these local communities and expands throughout the region as young players grow up making the sport the focus of their leisure activities.
Do you want to know why San Jose earned the title of Soccer City USA? Notice how new soccer fields — both of the natural and artificial turf variety — that have been built in the last five years in your community. Check out the former baseball diamonds that now feature grass growing where red clay once reigned. Notice the ubiquitous goal frames chained to park fences waiting for the hoards of players to liberate them for their weekend matches. As soccer fans, relish in the community spirit of togetherness and fair play the beautiful game brings to San Jose.
For the melting pot of cultures that make up the South Bay, soccer provides a unifying language connecting us outside or work and school. We get together to cheer on our kids in youth soccer, to compete in our own adult leagues, and especially to cheer on our heroes every weekend on the San Jose Earthquakes. The citizens of San Jose don’t need a huge sign proclaiming their community to be Soccer City USA — we are living and embracing that honor every day.