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Has Soccer Really Gained a Foothold in The United States?

NEW YORK - DECEMBER 04:  Professional soccer player and member of the US National Soccer Team Landon Donovan poses for photos at the FIFA World Cup final draw viewing event hosted by Visa at ESPN Zone in Times Square on December 4, 2009 in New York City.  (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Visa)
Jemal Countess/Getty Images
Dan WadeSenior Analyst IDecember 5, 2009

Yesterday was one of the most exciting days in recent memory for fans of international football. The World Cup Draw, in and of itself little more than the picking of names out of a bucket, has been elevated to the realm of spectacle with fans of each of the 32 nations tuned in to see who they'll be pitted against in six months time.

That's right, we were on the edge of our seats for something that won't be relevant for half a year.

Personally, I was tapped into ESPN's live feed, as well as the BBC's live text, to catch news from every possible angle as the draw took place, as well as my twitter feed (@Dwade) to see what friends were saying.

Seconds after the US and England were drawn together, people were going nuts. ESPN's international studio crew, with former members of the US, English, and Nigerian national team got into the fray immediately. Alexi Lalas boasted the US would take an easy three points from the Brits before everyone laughed and began to dissect how fortunate both countries were to avoid the Group of Death.

Draw completed, I went to check the Trending Topics on twitter—the list of phrases getting mentioned most often.

Not only did England and United States break the list, normally dominated by Tiger Woods, New Moon, and Justin Bieber (who I would not recognize if he came up and punched me the mouth), the entirety of Group C was listed among the ten hottest words. Maybe people got really interested in Slovenia for a completely different reason, but I sort of doubt it.

Granted, these are worldwide searches, but the US still boasts two-thirds of all users, meaning it is fair to assume that the US was driving Group C up the board.

Part of me wasn't surprised. The Confed Cup wins over Egypt and Spain, as well as the close loss to Brazil did a lot to push soccer into the sporting landscape of the United States, as has ESPN's agreement to show Premier League games. However, I was quite pleased to see that it seemed to have expanded beyond simply sports fans and was becoming mainstream.

Later that evening, CNN ran a poll asking viewers if they planned on watching at least one World Cup game. Not being one to be overly optimistic, I guessed that around 55% of viewers would catch at least one game.

68% of respondents said they had no plans to view even one game.

The draw could not have been better for the US. Their first game is one worth the six months of build up it will receive and the remaining two are winnable, meaning the US should advance into the knockout stages (likely against Germany, if everything goes according to seed). Even with everything in their favor, viewers in the states simply aren't planning on tuning in.

This all has left me wondering where soccer is in the United States. It's been the fastest growing youth sport for a generation or more, yet when a new marquee sport was added to the pantheon, it was MMA, not soccer.

No doubt, a deep run next June and July will turn heads, as it always does. My question is why those heads weren't watching in the first place.

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