CHARLOTTE, NC, June 19, 2014 – Suddenly, soccer has become the hottest sports topic in America.
But is it really the glorious new love affair the media is attempting to say it is?
Ratings for the U.S. v Ghana in their first round match in the World Cup in Brazil hit an all time high for soccer in the United States. It even surpassed viewership for traditional sports such as NBA basketball and Major League baseball.
Even so, the numbers, and the reasons, may be a little misleading upon closer inspection.
Futbol, as it is known to the rest of the world, is the most popular sport on the planet. That is obvious by the raucous throngs of fans who are filling every stadium in Brazil to capacity. It is also true that sports bars across the U.S. have been packed with American fans who have become captivated by the games.
It certainly did not hurt soccer’s cause in this country that the United States got revenge against Ghana for two previous losses with a header goal in the final five minutes of the game that led to a 2-1 victory.
Nor will the excitement diminish come Sunday when the U.S. faces Portugal who lost to Germany in their first game. A win by the American team will eliminate Portugal and a tie would give the U.S. a fighting chance to make the elimination round.
Consider, too, that the game will be played on a Sunday evening at 6 p.m. when everyone, including American children who love to play the game can watch it live. There will be no other distractions. The time slot is perfect. The audience will be huge.
Given the fact that soccer is usually a low scoring game, anything can happen.
Forget that the United States was beaten in every aspect of their match with Ghana except on the scoreboard. Yes, the final was in the American’s favor, but Portugal is one of the top five teams in the world. The U.S. cannot play the same game against Portugal that it did against Ghana and expect to win again.
As long as the United States continues to advance, the enthusiasm will continue as well. It is a source of national pride. It is us against the world, and we are the underdogs. It is a role for which Americans thrive.
Once we lose however, only diehard futbol lovers will keep watching with vigor. By the end of the tournament, when curiosity envelops speculation over which country will be the new champion, then the excitement will return. But it will only be temporary.
For the moment there is a “Miracle on Ice” atmosphere about soccer in the United States. When the American ice hockey team beat Russia for the gold medal in the 1980 Olympics the experts said hockey would undergo a renaissance. It didn’t. even though it will still be long regarded as one of the greatest moments in American sports history.
One reason is the vary same reason the World Cup in Brazil is only a temporary phenomenon for the American sports fan. Simply put, there is not enough scoring.
Americans will flock to any competition where the underdog has the opportunity to win in a last second rally. Football and baseball are the two best sports in this country for that sort of finish. Basketball is also a sport where upsets occur but not in the same manner as the other two because of the way points are scored.
In soccer and hockey, a 2 goal lead late in the game usually means it is over. That is not true in football, baseball or basketball. Yes, there can be blow-outs in any of those sports too, but the chance that a team can come back to win at the last possible moment is far greater in the big three than in either soccer or hockey.
It is the international atmosphere that has captured the hearts of soccer watchers in the United States during the World Cup. It’s a global party and Americans love a festival of any kind.
Combined with ideal viewing opportunities in real time and the fact that we are now competitive in soccer this year rather than an embarrassment have all come together in a perfect storm of interest.
Add to the mix the number of youth soccer leagues that have grown up around the country in recent years and that also plays a role. Participation does not always translate to spectators later in life, however.
For now, we should savor every last kick, but we should also be cautious in thinking that soccer will overtake our traditional sports favorites in this country any time soon.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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