In the early '70s soccer was no more than a children's game in the US. There were almost no high school teams. Since then, the game in this country has grown to be the largest youth sport in the country, with over 10 million kids playing.
Despite the huge amount of kids playing today, soccer has yet to become a real mainstream sport in this country.
I think this US National team has a good chance at changing that.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not picking them to win the World Cup. However, the increasing popularity of MLS, the adversity faced by the US team in pool play thus far, this same US team beating No. 1 Spain in the Confederations Cup last year, and the fact that European's premier soccer leagues are now being shown on mainstream American television networks with some regularity all are contributing factors in the growth of the sport in America.
The one thing that stands out to me is the way Team USA is handling this adversity and turning it into epic drama. There have been two disallowed goals in two games on horrible calls, and they still find a way to fight through it.
I remember watching the World Cup in 1994 when it was hosted by the US. It set attendance records for a World Cup, but that was mostly due to curiosity and the fact that the venues they were playing in were much larger in comparison to previous Cup-host countries' stadiums.
However, I don't remember this kind of excitement and knowledge of the sport that I am seeing this tournament. And more importantly, it is getting the casual sports fan interested.
With major sports in America, we are used to seeing bad calls, but we are also used to seeing the officials being held accountable. That is not the same in soccer.
Given the way Americans look at referees, this subjective (at times) officiating could have destroyed the next generation of soccer in this country. Had the US team not scored in extra time against Algeria, all we would be talking about is how OUR team got SCREWED in two straight games by the officials.
But they did score.
That goal meant a lot more than just moving on to the elimination rounds.
It changed how American youth and casual sports fans look at the sport of soccer. Instead of remembering how we were wronged, we will remember Donovan's amazing goal against Slovenia, and how he was the dramatic hero in extra time against Algeria, scoring in a "win or go home" situation.
They are playing hard, they are playing very well, they are taking chances, and they are playing with passion.
After living in Europe for a year, I can tell you those are things that most Americans have never experienced in a soccer game.
But they are now, and it looks like they like it.
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