World Cup fever continues to spread across America, and the U.S. men's national team prepares to meet Belgium on Tuesday. On the line is a trip to the quarter-finals, and with it, the belief that U.S. soccer has finally arrived.
A win would see the U.S. into the last eight for the first time since 2002, and it seems almost surreal for Americans. Just recently fans were hearing how the "Group of Death" could not be conquered, and yet Jurgen Klinsmann's team could be going even further.
Yes, it's true that soccer fever is sweeping the nation. But what would reaching the quarter-finals actually mean for the U.S.?
To begin with, it's clear that progressing even further in this World Cup would show the world that U.S. soccer is no longer a joke. America has finally found their identity in the beautiful game, and it's time to take the Yanks seriously.
As the U.S. prepare for Tuesday's match, many other top teams are already home after being eliminated.
The likes of Spain, England, Italy and Croatia were not able to escape their groups, but America did. Granted, it isn't fair to say that just getting out of the group makes the U.S. better than these other teams because each group was vastly different. But it does show that the Yanks are truly competing on the highest stage.
In the group, America finally had the last laugh against Ghana—who had been a World Cup thorn in their side—while also having a great showing against Portugal as a whole. Couple that with a promising performance against Germany, and it is clear that America has already stood face-to-face with stiff competition.
Now Belgium await. Seen as a dark horse entering the tournament, Belgium will not be the toughest opponent the USMNT have faced thus far.
Simply put, Belgium have struggled in this World Cup and aren't playing their best. But the U.S. have also played Germany, who are a much better side. America have already been tested and they will have a good chance to advance on Tuesday.
It is absolutely possible that the U.S. can beat Belgium. In fact, some are starting to call America the favorites, which is a great achievement in and of itself.
To progress past Belgium and into the final eight would show that the U.S. are here and not going anywhere. It will show that American soccer is now a force that must be respected. The U.S. may have shown up to the party late, but they made it.
But reaching the quarter-finals will mean a lot more than just proving the quality of American soccer. The argument can even be made that it has already been proven this World Cup.
More importantly, reaching the quarter-finals will mean that soccer will continue to receive the attention it deserves in the United States.
Once a nation that cared very little for the beautiful game, many minds have been changed. Soccer is now a relatively welcomed entity in America and has already captured a rather large following. As more and more Americans fall in love with the game, the U.S. having a successful run in the World Cup will only make the sentiments even stronger.
Forbes' Maury Brown just recently revealed that the U.S. match against Portugal pulled in around 18.2 million viewers, while the game against Germany set an ESPN streaming record with 1.7 million viewers, even more than the last Super Bowl.
It should be noted that those numbers are a little suspect. While the Germany game did see more streaming viewers than the Super Bowl, it was also played during the afternoon while most Americans were at work, while the Super Bowl is played in the evenings.
Regardless of how you interpret the numbers, it is clear that soccer is growing rapidly in America. Fans are flocking to the game and it is quickly becoming a major sport in the States.
The Nielsen company, per The Associated Press, and via CBSnews.com, also revealed that the match against Portugal was viewed by roughly 24.7 million Americans, which is exactly how many watched the last World Cup final. American sentiment for the game cannot be ignored.
Truthfully, if the U.S. were to make it to the quarter-finals, it could be just the thing to take soccer over the edge in America. Fans love success, and with it comes attention and growth.
If the U.S. were to be eliminated on Tuesday, their World Cup campaign would still be seen as a win. America has already proven the critics wrong, but to advance further would be to stun even more people.
So precisely what would making the quarter-finals mean for U.S. soccer? Well, it would mean absolutely everything and a guarantee for the future of the beautiful game in America.
Can the USMNT defeat Belgium? What would it mean if that were to happen? Leave your thoughts and comments below!