On a Tuesday afternoon, Americans packed city centers, parks and even football stadium like Soldier Field and AT&T Stadium in Dallas to watch a soccer game. Yes. A soccer game.
While many will claim it was a longer than expected case of "World Cup Fever," a good number of Americans were glued to a television or radio to see how the United States would do in the round of 16 against Belgium. Despite a 16 save performance by goaltender Tim Howard, the Belgians finally broke through with two goals in extra time to take a 2-0 lead, holding on to a 2-1 victory even after a goal by Julian Green in the 107th minute.
So, what now? It's all over. Team USA made it through the "group of death" and fell short in the knockout round of 16.
Which direction is the game going in after this World Cup?
The most obvious answer would be: Right back to where we were before the World Cup started.
Soccer falls into the same realm as the Olympics. We find ourselves caring about certain sports for a few weeks every four years, and then once it's over, our patriotic duties are fulfilled and we go on with our normal day.
In no way is this intended to disparage the game, but if it's not Team USA playing, most people will not care. Much like hockey, soccer is a regional sport. The game is popular in cities like Seattle and Portland, but in a city like Pittsburgh, it's not as important. Goes without saying, national pride will get anyone to watch anything.
Most of the country is content with sports like football, baseball and basketball. Soccer and hockey always seem to fall into a tie for fourth place. Those two sports gain more popularity and television viewers when a championship or international tournament comes along. As mentioned in a previous post, the United States vs. Russia in Olympic hockey.
But did soccer leave any mark on the country going forward? It might be too early to tell.
In regards to exposure, NBC Sports landing the Barclays Premier League last year gave fans in the United States an outlet to watch more of the leagues games than ever before. On the final day of the season, all 10 matches were shown on 10 different channels on the NBC family of networks (even though only 2 games mattered that day).
The country's biggest professional league, the MLS, sent 31 players to play for their respected countries in the World Cup. The MLS doesn't compare to the Premier League. NBC also has television rights for that league, as well as ESPN.
The MLS is already overshadowed by the big three sports leagues in the United States. If the league wanted to try and compete with the elite league across the pond, they would have to get on the same schedule which begins in the late summer and ends in late spring. That puts them up against all three leagues, which is bad news for ratings.
So with ESPN's wall-to-wall World Cup coverage, The United States making it to the Round of 16 and the second season of Premier League coverage coming up on NBC, there's still no indication that soccer will rise in popularity.
If anything, the World Cup created some household names. Tim Howard is one. The American goalkeeper kept the Americans in their final match against Belgium and made World Cup history, making the most saves in a game since the 1966 World Cup and Clint Dempsey has become the Landon Donovan of this World Cup.
Here's hoping the 2014 FIFA World Cup created some new interest in soccer. If not, see you in four years.
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