Buckley: Get ready for another soccer wave to hit our shores

Mr. Carrabino, my seventh-grade teacher at Cambridge’s Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Elementary School, was a neighborhood guy whose family ran a fruit-and-vegetables store in Inman Square, where he’d work during summers, vacations and sometimes even during the noon recess.

He was also a committed Red Sox fan who went to a ton of games and kept a scorecard for all them. When he died a couple of years ago at age 91, his family found a neatly preserved scorecard from the Sox’ 4-3 loss to the Yankees on Sept. 28, 1968. It would appear he saved it because it was Mickey Mantle’s final big-league game.

Mr. C. taught us many things not contained in the curriculum. Among them: Get ready for the day when soccer is our national sport, surpassing football, basketball, hockey and, yes, even his beloved baseball. He didn’t say it with anger, or with bite, or with a roll of the eyes. He just said it as fact.

Turns out Mr. C. was on to something, and I guess this is where some of you will submit an eye roll of your own and truck out the old line about how “soccer is the sport of the future . . . and always will be.”

But yesterday’s announcement by FIFA that the 2026 World Cup has been awarded to a combined group from the United States, Mexico and Canada is a game-changer. Sixty matches will be played in the United States, with the championship final to be played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Presumably, we’ll get World Cup matches in Foxboro, as happened in 1994, the last time the World Cup arrived on our shores.

The 1994 World Cup was a stunning success. It made money, sure, but it also made friends — lots of them. More kids learned how to play soccer, and more adults learned how to watch soccer. It laid the groundwork for MLS, which stands for Major League Soccer, which, admittedly, is not major-league in the way the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB are.

But the Revolution are still here, folks, which is more than we can say for such long-buried-and-hardly-mourned pro soccer outfits as the Boston Beacons, Boston Astros and the New England Tea Men.

A lot has happened since 1994. Let’s start with the obvious: The world is a much smaller place than it was a quarter-century ago, if more chaotic. There was an internet back then, but you needed a phone line and a hand crank to dive into CompuServe and its soon-to-be daddy, AOL. The 21st century internet and its dizzying array of social-media platforms, coupled with countless ways to watch live soccer, have brought the sport not just into our homes, but into our hands as well.

Let’s also consider what’s happening with our tried-and-true professional sports leagues.

Major League Baseball is looking more and more like a nightly three-hour coin flip: Either the batter’s going to walk or he’s going to strike out. Every sportswriter in possession of a BBWAA card feels compelled to submit essays on how to “fix the game.” Just the other day, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan introduced us to a Ball State professor named Nick Elam whose radical ideas include moving the pitcher’s rubber back three feet and using a computerized strike zone that expands after each pitch during a plate appearance.

The NFL’s problem is hardly a news flash: We keep reading sobering accounts of ex-players growing old and addled at a time when they should be able to enjoy pleasant, productive post-football lives. It’s not just the players who forge on, heedless of the risks — many fans and sportswriters, too, have made their pact with the devil.

Not that football has cornered the market on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy — injuries to the brain. As 80-year-old Bruins legend Johnny McKenzie lay dying last week, his family told me they were planning to donate his brain to Boston University for CTE research. Johnny died Saturday night.

Playing soccer can also cause CTE, for the simple reason that heading means just that: Using your head to deflect the ball. Whether heading is ever eliminated in soccer, as has happened in some youth leagues, is a discussion for another time. But I think we can agree the sport is a safer alternative to football, and, to borrow from that old line about the future of soccer, always will be.

Eight years is a long, long time from now. But when one considers how much soccer grew in the United States in the afterglow of the 1994 World Cup, it doesn’t take a leap of faith to predict a true soccer explosion in the run-up to 2026 and beyond.

Mr. C. was a really, really good teacher.

This post was originally published here via Google News