The 2014 FIFA World Cup has been thrilling so far, and American soccer fans have evidently come to appreciate the globe's most popular sport more than ever.
Although the United States came within seconds of victory before settling for a 2-2 draw versus Portugal on Sunday, the Group G match was the most-viewed U.S. soccer game of all time.
ESPNMediaZone.com's Michael Humes reported news of the record viewership numbers Monday, noting that a product-record 1,373,000 tuned in online through WatchESPN. The network's telecast drew incredible ratings, too, per ESPN PR:
Bleacher Report's Dan Levy would have rather enjoyed an American win in solitude:
Good to see the huge rating for USA-Portugal. I’d rather have 3 points and nobody watching though.— Dan Levy (@DanLevyThinks) June 23, 2014
Amol Sharma of The Wall Street Journal provided further context for just how compelled U.S. viewers were to watch their side face Portugal, as did Sports Business Journal's John Ourand:
USA-Portugal match averaged a whopping 18.2 million viewers on ESPN, more than the 17.9 million who watched Game Five of the NBA Finals.— Amol Sharma (@asharma) June 23, 2014
USA-Portugal TV: ESPN had 18.22 million viewers; Univision had 6.5 million. That combined 24.7 million number is huge.— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) June 23, 2014
ESPN says USA-Portugal is the United States' most-watched soccer match in history, eclipsing the 1999 Women’s World Cup final on ABC.— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) June 23, 2014
What would be an acceptable performance for USA soccer at the World Cup?
Then Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo broke American hearts. Ronaldo redeemed several prior misfires by delivering a perfect cross that Silvestre Varela headed past Tim Howard at the end of stoppage time.
As the USA tried to hang on for the second of two improbable wins in what's been dubbed the "Group of Death," the suspense kept even casual fans glued to screens all over the world. For those who enjoy the game, these unprecedented numbers suggest soccer in the U.S. could have a more optimistic outlook in terms of popularity than previously expected.
Soccer's fanfare suffers in the USA from the myriad of alternative major sports offered. However, this World Cup could be a massive turning point.
Should the U.S. side advance to the round of 16, interest should only increase, along with ratings. As it stands, no one in Group G made it through to the knockout phase entering the final matches. That could lead to even higher American ratings and viewership records in Thursday's showdown with Germany.
Klinsmann has expressed his desire to win rather than settle for another tie.
"I don't think that we are made for draws, really, except if it happens like tonight — two late goals, last seconds," said Klinsmann after the Portugal match, per the Associated Press' Ronald Blum. "I think both teams go into this game and they want to win the group."
The stalwart German side demoralized Portugal 4-0 in the opener before tying Ghana, whom the U.S. beat 2-1 to start the 2014 World Cup. It's anyone's guess as to how Group G will play out, but it seems rather certain that the USA will be eagerly tuning in with impassioned anticipation.