Moving back from England to America for the first time since I left to play soccer abroad in 1992, this year has brought me a lot of change. And having just retired from the English Premier League and settled into my role as an analyst for FOX Sports, there have been more than a few surprises.
One of the big ones is how much Los Angeles has changed since my UCLA days. Top of the list is how L.A. has this reputation as having such awful traffic. That is totally inaccurate. It is so, so much worse than just awful.
Another change that is apparently occurring without me even realizing it:
I am told my oft-talked about accent is reverting to its Ohio roots.
In fact, a fan tweeted recently that (Aston Villa¹s goalkeeper) Brad Guzan has replaced me as having the most foreign accent of American soccer players. I forwarded the tweet to Brad, but for some reason he never responded!
Anyway, our soccer host Rob Stone keep very close tabs on my accent and he says it¹s becoming more American again, so I¹m going to let him continue to monitor and report on this developing situation. And luckily if Rob falls asleep at the wheel, there are always those viewers who love to jump on Twitter and tell me what they think!
But one of the things that has surprised me the most is how far football sorry, soccer (still getting used to that again, too) – has come as far as being on television. When I left in 1992, even USA World Cup qualifiers you¹d do well just to find one that wasn¹t only available via tape delay on ESPN2.
Now, there is more soccer on than there was in the UK. You only need to look at the incredible number of events I have worked on for FOX this year to see that.
The biggest of the year was the Women¹s World Cup: I don¹t mind saying I couldn¹t believe how much we put into that, and how many viewers turned up. When I walked into our huge studio in Vancouver that we built just for the Women¹s World Cup, I realized we weren¹t messing about. It¹s up to us to make the World Cups great for viewers, that¹s a big responsibility FOX has taken on, and I think this summer in Canada got us off in the right direction.
On the men¹s side, I¹ve gotten to work on the biggest international tournaments since FOX airs most all of them like the Champions League, the Europa League and the Gold Cup (though not such happy memories there given the Americans¹ results).
I¹ve also gotten to reunite with Major League Soccer, which came to FOX just as I did, as we split the Sunday package with ESPN. I like knowing there will always be MLS on at a certain time every week. Those matches also get beamed back to the UK, so it¹s been fun to hear my mates back there chatting more about our league.
I¹ve also gotten to work on the German league, the Bundesliga, which also just started on FOX this year. That league doesn¹t have the publicity here in America outside of maybe Bayern Munich because it always does well in Champions League, but the network is going to give it a push and hope fans realize how exciting that league is.
And while we have most of the big games on FOX, it is also great to be able to watch my Spurs in the Premier League on NBC, who shows more EPL games in the US than we are able to watch in the UK.
And there is lots more soccer to come in 2016, with the European Championships set for next summer (I won¹t get to do that one, ESPN has
it) as well as a tournament called Copa America Centenario, which features huge teams like Brazil, Argentina, the US and Mexico. My bosses haven¹t told us if we are going to get to show it, but that¹d be brilliant, because the tournament will be here in America and will easily be the biggest men¹s soccer event on our soil since the 1994 World Cup.
So with all of that, you can see I was a bit surprised at how much soccer is on in America now compared to when I left. I have just moved from a country where soccer is out and out the number one sport to a country where it is not but it¹s obviously getting bigger and bigger with every generational turn here.
I saw a number that youth sports in America is a $7 billion industry, and soccer is a full $2.2 billion of that. So there is a reason the TV companies are snatching up soccer content.
While I don¹t see soccer passing the NFL anytime soon, within the next 10 years it will be incredibly close with baseball and basketball in the U.S.
So unlike me, my three kids will grow up with soccer being a major sport in America.
Now if I can just get them to say they are American. I think I can get two of the three. My four year-old already says he is, and I think my 9 year-old will come around in time.
As for my 12-year-old daughter? She will do whatever she wants, so I have no chance.
No matter the country, some things never change.