It is the dream of many young, American boys to grow up and become a professional athlete, whether in basketball, baseball or football. However, they may want to do a little research before dreaming of a professional soccer career.
There are two professional sports teams that call Utah home. When 15 BYU students were asked to name them, only six were able to name both. All 15 knew about the Utah Jazz, but only six remembered Real Salt Lake. Even after receiving help from a friend, David Johnson, a freshman engineering student, guessed that RSL stood for “Royal Squirrel Launchers.”
It may be because the Jazz are a better team, but the Jazz have never won an NBA title while Real Salt Lake won the Major League Soccer cup in 2009.
“There are two reasons the people here don’t know about us,” RSL team captain Kyle Beckerman said. “Most Americans just aren’t that into soccer yet, and the Jazz have been here a lot longer than us. We are a good team, we just need to get the word out and get people to games.”
The tenure in the state may make up for the lack of knowledge about the team, but it doesn’t explain the difference in pay.
RSL had two players voted onto the MLS All-Star team this season — Beckerman and defender Jamison Olave. When comparing information on mlsplayers.org and the Jazz team roster on ESPN, the two All-Stars’ annual income combined is about $200,000 less than the income of Jeremy Evans, the fourth string small forward on the Utah Jazz and the lowest-paid player on its roster.
“I definitely don’t play soccer for the paycheck,” RSL midfielder Collen Warner said. “I’ve done some research and I’m pretty sure I could make more money as a school teacher somewhere. But I love the game and I can’t think of anything I would rather do.”
Of the 15 students interviewed on campus, three could name at least one player on RSL’s roster, while 12 were able to name at least three players who play for the Utah Jazz. Although Steven Brown, a statistics major from Murray, could not name any RSL players, he was able to name notable MLS players, such as David Beckham and Landon Donovan.
Donovan, the face of American soccer, makes more than $200,000 less than Utah Jazz recent draft pick Gordon Hayward.
The highest paid Jazz player from 2010-11, Andrei Kirilenko, made approximately $17,823,000 last season. Compare that to the highest paid RSL player, Javier Morales, who will make $452,500 this year.
BYU soccer midfielder Colby Bauer blames the huge money gap on the age of the sport.
“Considering how much younger the sport is … soccer has found its way to be respected by athletes and sports fans,” Bauer said. “As of now, the sport is comparable with other top sports. Hopefully in the future it will surpass all of them.”
Despite the lower amount of fame and fortune, it does not deter current BYU players from wanting to join the league.
“I would love to play in the MLS,” sophomore midfielder Garrett Losee said. “It would be a great experience because of the high level of competition and to be in that type of atmosphere.”
Another thing that widens the gap is the attraction to play soccer overseas.
“If the opportunity came [to play in the MLS] I would not pass it up,” sophomore defender Junior Lartey said. “However, my first priority is to make my way to Europe to play. Europe has a better style of play and can develop a player’s skill much better than the U.S. can.”
The lifestyle of a professional athlete is always something to be admired. The teams train, practice and review game plans for more than 10 hours a day. The extensive traveling puts a strain on the players as well.
“Our teammates become our family,” RSL midfielder Andy Williams said. “Once the season starts, the team is about the only thing you’ve got. It’s really hard on a guy to be away from home and family that much for long stretches of time, but the love of the game comes out on top. There is no better job out there.”
Most MLS players don’t enjoy the big houses and nice cars that some other professional athletes grow accustomed to.
“I still drive a normal car and live in an apartment here,” Warner said. “It really still feels a lot like college, minus the homework. It’s not nearly as high class as I thought being a professional athlete would be growing up, but you just can’t beat getting paid to play soccer.”
Some players weighed in on what it will take for the MLS to reach the same level as the NBA, NFL or Major League Baseball.
“I think if the national team does really well it will create more interest in soccer here,” BYU freshman forward Winston Sorhaitz said. “And to see MLS teams compete with the top teams from Europe.”
Lartey said he believes it won’t happen until the United States wins the World Cup.
“You can tell the sport is growing in the U.S.,” Beckerman said. “Look at how much better we are doing on the international scale, that doesn’t just happen. Kids are starting to play soccer more. If we continue to hold our own against other countries and show the fans that soccer is here to stay, we’ll be up there with any other sport in the nation.”
There is still hope for professional soccer in the United States. It may not be close to the pay scale or popularity of other sports now, but with the growth the MLS is experiencing and the passion for the sport the players have, it may be only a matter of time before it enters the ranks of basketball, football and baseball.
“I feel as if [soccer] is gaining ground and starting to become more and more popular,” BYU senior forward B.J. Pugmire said. “If you look at the following that the new expansion teams have, it is a promising sign.”