There are two things I do every four years.
Vote in the Presidential election, and watch the United States play soccer in the World Cup.
Just performing my patriotic duty.
As a fan of hockey, I know how some soccer fans feel when the discussion of the sport's popularity in the U.S. is brought up. You hear this about each of them:
"it's not a popular sport!"
"Most people don't watch it!"
Hockey is a regional sport, and for soccer, you could say the same thing. Living in the Pittsburgh area, hockey is popular thanks to the Penguins success.
With soccer, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds of the North American Soccer League has sparked some interest from some in a city that prefers the American version of football. Even with a beautiful stadium along the Monongahela River at Station Square, financial woes and a losing record in 2014 is not exactly clearing a path for Major League Soccer to come to the Steel City in the future.
Both sports have their moments when they're front and center for the country and world to see. The FIFA World Cup and Winter Olympics offer that platform.
In both World Cup and Olympic action, each sport had both traditional and non-traditional fans watching and intrigued.
February 15, 2014: Sochi, Russia.
It was a game that had Americans waking up for a 7:30am puck drop as team USA faced Olympic host Russia in group play.
With Vladamir Putin looking on, the two countries played a tight game that had viewers on the edge of their seats on an early Saturday morning. A shootout would determine the winner of the game, and St. Louis Blues forward, T.J. Oshie, became an American hero, as he shot in six of the eight rounds and got the game winner in that gave the U.S. a 3-2 win over Russia.
Both countries failed to medal in the games, but the United States won the battle of the two former Cold War rivals.
June 16, 2014: Natal, Brazil
If you knew anything about the U.S. soccer team coming into their first World Cup game, it was that Ghana has been a thorn in the side of the American team since the 2006 Cup in Germany. Beating the U.S. in Group play in 2006 and knocking them out in 2010 in South Africa.
There was an obvious interest in the game, much like the interest people had in the U.S. playing Russia in Olympic hockey in February.
The United States did something you don't always see in soccer. They were on the board 30 seconds in when Clint Dempsey took a shot from the left wing that found the low crossbar and went in. It turned out to be huge, especially since Ghana dominated possession time and the physical play for the next 80 plus minutes and finally got on the board late to tie it.
Just as it looked like the U.S. would be limited to just 1 point, or worse, no points in the match, a corner kick from Graham Zusi found the head of John Brooks, who came off the bench and scored what would be the game winner for the United States in the 86th minute. After the game, Brooks said he had a dream he would score in the final ten minutes of the game.
Monday's victory is going to keep non-traditional soccer fans around for Sunday's match against Portugal and Wednesday's meeting with Germany, who looks like the biggest threat in America's group, also known as "The Group of Death."
So, what is the meaning of all this?
Even if you are not the biggest hockey fan, or in regards to this post, the biggest soccer fan, anytime there is an event that carries national interest, people are going to tune in.
For those of you who do follow soccer closely, whether it be an MLS or English Premier League club, don't be too hard on the guy who pays attention one month every four years to the beautiful game that is soccer. People like me are at least taking an interest in the game, especially since it's the best in the world coming together to compete.
To be blunt about it, there are people out there who write off the game without even giving it a chance. We all know somebody who is like this. If you're like me, it is someone you're related to.
For the next three weeks, I will continue to watch World Cup soccer whenever I can, much like I did back in 2010. The next time I watch this much soccer, it will probably be when the World Cup is played in Russia four years from now. I might even watch some Premier League soccer on NBC and NBCSN during that time between World Cups.
Call me a "bandwagoner," but at least I am making an effort to watch a sport that a good percentage of Americans are too ignorant to give a shot.
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