To those anti-soccer folks, sure the Americans lost to Belgium in the first stage of the Knockout Round. Sure the Americans finished with a 1-2-1 record. I get that all of that.
HOWEVER (channeling my inner Stephen A. Smith), those folks have to realize that the Americans were not expected to do but so well at the World Cup. Hell, they weren’t even supposed to advance past the Group Stage.
I mean, the U.S. was stuck in Group G with Germany (a finalist who just curb-stomped host Brazil), Portugal (with Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the best players in the world) and nemesis Ghana (who eliminated the Americans from the last two World Cups). Fans and the media dubbed that group “The Group of Death” for a reason.
But thanks to gritty play and excellent leadership from coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the Americans not only played well – they advanced and nearly won their group in the process.
Now that the U.S. has been eliminated from the World Cup, what now? Will people in the U.S. still watch the World Cup in record numbers? Will Americans give two damns about soccer?
Before I continue, let me first say that I had long been an anti-soccer dude. I have gone out of my way in the past to discredit soccer, dismissing it by saying “it’s not a sport, but an excuse to riot”. I even bagged on soccer fans for being so damn deranged and crazy (in the RHOA sense). And while I still think some soccer fans are WAY too passionate for my comfort, I have to give soccer its due.
I think that not only soccer has caught on with the American public, but I think the sport has staying power.
Let me first acknowledge that soccer is still a niche sport in this country. I get that. It will never be football (NFL nor college), basketball, baseball nor even golf.
However, I do think that it’s almost as big as NASCAR and has done laps around hockey in this country.
If the ratings from the World Cup has taught us anything (Google it), it’s that soccer has caught on in this country from an interest standpoint. There were HUGE watch parties around the nation tuning into the USMNT’s matches. Even casual fans were watching World Cup matches not involving the U.S.
Now that soccer has officially caught on in the U.S., here is how it could have any more staying power. It first has to develop big name talent.
Sports fans tune in to see the big names. Check out the ratings the English Premier League and the Spanish La Liga pull in this country. Casual soccer fans such as myself want to watch stars such as Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, serial biter Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi do their thing on the soccer pitch. If this country produces big name talent to go along with the likes of stud goalkeeper Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, more Americans will care.
Another thing that needs to happen is that Major League Soccer has to improve – a lot.
Let’s be honest here, the MLS is at best AAA minor league baseball compared to the European Leagues. Washed-up European stars play in the MLS. You couldn’t pay soccer purists in this country to watch it.
Now I know there are some MLS teams that draw well (the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and LA Galaxy lead the MLS in attendance), and that’s good for the league. It’s just that the American public does not tune into minor-league shit.
The last thing I think needs to happen is that the MLS needs to somehow convince UEFA (governing body of the Premier League, La Liga, German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A, French Ligue 1 and Dutch Eredivisie) to allow regular season matches (and more friendlies) between its teams and UEFA’s. It’s a long shot to be sure, but with the right power brokers in this country (tycoons including some NFL, NBA, and MLB owners could have a stake in this) things could happen. After all, they say “money talks” for a reason.
Even if my second idea does not come to fruition, soccer still has further ingratiated itself with the American sports fan. More kids are playing it, and the older generations of naysayers are slowly dying out.
Move over Europe and South America! North America has entered the soccer club.