Bryan Curtis in Slate:
For decades, it was baseball that felt brainy and top-heavy—thanks to the efforts of men like George F. Will, who was forever wondering how Tony LaRussa reminded him of Tocqueville. From John Cheever to Stephen Jay Gould, baseball’s beat poets looted the game for metaphors for and clues to the national character. Those same deep thoughts are now regularly located in soccer, which seems primed to yield both grand sociopolitical theories and inchoate childhood longings.
What brought soccer to the smart set? Well, one could simply argue that soccer’s time had come. Many of the writers in question (Eggers, Foer) were in their formative years when soccer became a mandatory youth sport in America, as well as a part of the American sporting scene (a moment generally pegged at Pelé’s signing by the New York Cosmos in 1975.) “What you’re seeing now is the result of the gold rush of soccer in the 1970s, when Pelé came to America and made it cool for kids,” says David Hirshey, soccer aficionado and executive editor of HarperCollins. “Those kids have grown up to be McSweeney’s and Granta writers.”