Football is becoming popular in the U.S. No, not the classic American football where players charge at each other, but football as the rest of the world knows it– soccer. The very same sport that was once regarded by Americans as boring and dull has now became the top-streamed game in the nation, even more than the NBA Finals, the Super Bowl, and the Olympics. Simply put, quoting Don Garber, head of Major League Soccer, “The country has changed. This is a new America.”
Yes, it is indeed much different from the America only a few months back. In a Washington News-ABC poll conducted last June, only 28% identified themselves as soccer fans. This dismal trend, though, has stretched further back, where for most of the 20th century, America was adamant about not accepting soccer into its culture. The fact that an entire 90-minute match could go on without a single goal seemed unfathomable to many Americans. America did not just refuse soccer; America ridiculed it, calling it a slow game lacking drama.
With the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, all of this is changing dramatically. Thanks in part to Team USA’s unexpected captivating victory in advancing into the second round, the soccer tournament has garnered up to at least 18.2 million views from the US, the most views ever in American soccer history. As more and more Americans open up to soccer, they are beginning to realize that soccer is anything but lacking drama.
In fact, unlike any other American sport, it is full of passion. In a basketball game, when someone makes a shot, people cheer for a while, then forget about it to focus on what’s happening next, because the game is happening so fast. With soccer, the fact few goals are made per match makes every goal memorable and exciting. Every time a goal is scored, the players are shouting, hugging, and running around crazily, even if their team is still behind. The players and the audience remember how every goal was shot or blocked or saved, whereas nobody remembers a simple layup made by a little-known basketball player.
Emotions also tend to run higher in soccer than in any other sporting event, for as soccer fan and novelist Terry Pratchett once said, “The thing about football – the important thing about football – is that it is not just about football.” Indeed, soccer is not just a sport to many people in the world; it is an essential part of culture. This truth is to such an extent that for many countries, a loss in an international soccer match is like shaming the whole nation to submission. For instance, current Team USA coach Juergen Klinsmann was once a coach for an Italian soccer team, and whenever the team lost, he couldn’t go out to a store or restaurant without being attacked by fans for weeks. Another example would be when four years ago in the last World Cup, Team Brazil was eliminated via penalty kicks, and numerous Brazilians blamed goalkeeper Julio Cesar. The only reason why Julio Cesar cried tearfully, after Brazil narrowly beat Chile via penalty kicks in this year’s World Cup, was that even after those four years, Brazil was still holding a grudge against Cesar. Nothing like this has been seen in America- even with American football, Americans forget after the game happens. Many other countries, though, still remember the soccer losses, even after four years.
Then there is the point of international competition. While basketball, hockey, and American football are mostly confined to North America, only soccer has the regular meetings between fiercely competitive national teams. It is this that fuels the passion of soccer not just in the game but outside the game as well– with the audiences. There have been reports of two opposing audiences competing with each other throughout the entire match as to which side could chant the loudest. Fans have been seen with crazy make-up, haircuts of the pictures of players, grandiose clothing and the most bizarre things just to show soccer support. Streets in many countries including the US have been crowded to an unimaginable extent just to cheer on the home soccer team. The degree of passion here is unparalleled to that of any other sport. To the many American soccer-skeptics, go try and watch a game of soccer, and you will enjoy the passion and realize that if anything, soccer is perhaps the most dramatic sport.
Many experts agree that soccer has indeed become a very popular game in the US. The question now is, is it here to stay? Already, among ages 12-24, soccer is the nation’s second most popular sport after baseball, according to a poll conducted by ESPN. If this trend continues, as it has been since the introduction of soccer to America, no doubt will soccer not just stay in America, but perhaps even thrive.