In less than three weeks, the 32 best soccer teams in the world will converge in South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. There is more to the World Cup than soccer; the event is more than just a sports tournament.
During the four weeks of the World Cup, cities all across the word practically come to a stand still. People take a break from their busy lives, and watch the games with great national pride.
The World Cup is still one of the best sports tournaments throughout the world. Unlike the Super Bowl, the World Baseball Classic, or FIBA (the worldwide basketball tournament), there are teams from all six continents in the World Cup. In fact, there are three from North America, six from Africa, five from Australia/Asia, five from South America, and 13 from Europe.
Out of the 32 teams in the World Cup, perhaps the one which can gain the most is the United States.
Professional soccer in the United States is a relatively new phenomenon. The MLS was only founded 16 years ago, in 1993, and before 1990, the United States was not in the World Cup for over 40 years
One of the biggest movements towards professional soccer in the United States was the 1994 World Cup. Although the United States were eliminated in the round of 16, the event ignited the country's passion for soccer. After the event, more and more children began to play soccer, making soccer one of the most played sports by kids.
In order for a country to develop a strong national team, it must wait until a new generation has arrived. Fast forward to 2010. That generation has already arrived.
This year, the United States has a young, but talented roster. The team has a core group of experienced players including Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Eddie Buddle, and Oguchi Onyewu (all of whom are under 30).
For one of the first times in US Soccer History, more players are coming from teams overseas than MLS teams. Although the US produces competitive players, the talent pool in the United States simply isn't deep enough.
If the United States can ride on its momentum from the Confederations Cup, the country has the capability to surprise people and go deeper into the tournament than it ever has before.
Imagine for a moment that the United States reaches the quarterfinals. Even if the team loses the quarterfinal game, it would be considered a success for many U.S. soccer fans.
As the U.S. soccer team performs better and better, the team will sell more jerseys, receive more sponsorships, and even cause ticket sales for their respective teams to increase. All this will create such a stir that it will make Don Garber, the commissioner of MLS, the happiest man alive.
The World Cup also has the potential to increase the talent pool in the United States. In the last few years, Julio Martinez, Thierry Henry, and David Beckham have all moved to the MLS. The league is gaining momentum, but a strong performance in the summer can make it closer to the Premier League than it ever has been before.
Increased exposure in South Africa will also increase television rights for the MLS and the US Soccer Federation. A MLS game has never been televised on a major television network and is getting lackluster ratings. The games can provide professional soccer with that much needed boost, like the 1994 World Cup finally promoted soccer in the United States.
The US Soccer Federation is looking to sell the rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. ESPN/ABC purchased the 2010 and 2014 rights for 100 million (Univision paid over $250 million for those same rights in the United States), and a good performance in 2010 may allow the Federation to command double that sum for 2018 and 2022.
Most importantly, the better the United States plays, the better chance the country has to win the rights to either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup. Many insiders believe Europe has the best chance to win the 2018 games, but the field for 2022 is wide open.
If the 1994 World Cup made professional soccer relevant again in the United States, the 2022 World Cup will help soccer in the country grow by leaps and bounds.
There is a good chance soccer will surpass NASCAR and Hockey as the country’s fourth most popular sport in a few years time, but in order for soccer to compete with the storied traditions of Baseball, Basketball, and Football, it must prove its players are competitive on a global stage.
A good run by Bob Bradley and company in 2010 will do just that.