Over the past few weeks, Americans have become enamored with the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Unlike ever before, the USA has embraced our national team, setting records on ESPN and Univision in viewers for the USA vs Portugal match last week.
The growing popularity of the sport has led to predictions about its future in America, and whether it has the potential to become one of the top professional sports in America, along with Football, Baseball, and Basketball.
As of now, even the National Hockey League is much more closely followed than Major League Soccer and the European soccer leagues in American households. Some believe that there is a changing of the guard, but I tend to think differently on the matter.
1. The World Cup has grown in popularity because of social media attention.
We see it all the time: events that are popular on social media with hashtags and facebook statuses have more viewers, because it becomes a fad. When it is cool for people to be watching and talking about your sport, the sport will thrive. Right now, the cool thing to do is watch the World Cup and either:
A. Cheer vehemently against the USA for a team of your choosing (Germany, Brazil, etc.)
B. Cheer for the US with all your heart and personally attack all dissenters.
2. Olympic Sports are riveting, but I have never considered watching most of those sports otherwise.
The World Cup is the type of polarizing event that is a statistical anomaly. Because it brings the whole world onto one stage, it has the ability as a successful event to garner lots of attention. Once the World Cup ends, the MLS will still be a below average league, and the European leagues will still come on TV during Saturday Morning cartoons.
3. None of the top players are Americans.
At the end of the day, the vast majority of Americans only care about America. We have relative stars: Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, but those guys do not move the needle like the superstars of the game: Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Neymar, Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie, and may other players that countries can stand behind and be proud of year in and year out.
Howard is a great goalkeeper, but keepers are not goal scorers, and that is what draws fan attention. Dempsey had a great run with Fulham in the Premier League, but never played for a top team in the league, and his past his prime as a soccer player. Altidore not only suffered an injury that has kept him out of nearly all of the World Cup, but scored only 1 goal in 30 appearances this past seasonas a striker for Sunderland in the Premier League.
4. We went through a similar situation with the women 15 years ago.
Many believe that Americans would get behind soccer if our team was successful and we had a top player, but even that did not make a difference for Mia Hamm and the 1999 World Cup Champion USWNT. They won in outstanding fashion on penalty kicks with Brandi Chastain ripping off her jersey and celebrating in the true spirit of patriotism. The idea that this would spur on an age of American dominance in soccer was wrong, and domestic interest in the sport has grown only marginally since then.
America will always have trouble bringing soccer into the forefront of American sports, if not for any other reason, because more than any other sport we play, it is not ours. We did not create it, we do not have the best league, we do not have the best players, and we do not have any real history or legacy within the sport to build upon. In fact, we have somewhat of a reputation as perennial losers, especially on the men's side.
Rest assured, we are still very alive in the World Cup, with a match-up against Belgium tomorrow in the round of 16. Additionally, there are young players on the horizon with the ability to change this stereotype, including current national team players like John Brooks, Deandre Yedlin, and Julian Green, as well as teen MLS sensation Diego Fagundez.
The fans are here. The potential is here. We believe that we will win. May the odds be ever in our favor.