Soccer in the United States is not as popular as it is throughout the world. The MLS is probably the least favorite out of the major professional sports league in America. I guarantee if you ask 100 random people to name 5 MLS teams they would struggle to name 2.
Why are we so distant from the rest of the globe when it comes to the world's favorite sport? Two reason, we're used to seeing scoring, something that doesn't happen to often in soccer, and it's hard to run commercials during a soccer game that has only 1 break for halftime. Football, basketball, and baseball have periods during the game when the network can have TV timeouts to run some annoying commercials. There's no place for this in a soccer game, and for this reason, you don't see it televised on American stations as often.
But after the U.S Men's national team's performance in this year's World Cup, I can see soccer becoming more prevalent in our commercialized country.
The USMNT really made our country proud. For two weeks, it seem like the entire country became die-hard soccer fans overnight. Despite their 2-1 loss to Belgium in extra time, knocking them out of the World Cup, I don't think there is a American citizen that was disappointed by their performance.
Belgium took many shots, 28 to be exact, but the US never folded. Coach Jurgen Klinsman should have used a more offensive formation other than the 4-3-5-1, that left us with no attack at all.
Once the game was nearly over, I thought he should have thrown Altidore out there, just to see if he could make a play. Landon Donovan, while criticizing Klinsmann for the loss, said that Michael Bradley was playing out of position an I hope that was the case because he didn't play very well.
They came into the World Cup as a long-shot just to make it out of their group, but not only did they make it out, they stood toe-to-toe with Ghana, Germany, and Portugal.
I recently went to my first international soccer game just last summer and I was amazed by how the atmosphere was so invigorating for a simple friendly match, which is basically a scrimmage. M&T Bank stadium can get pretty loud when the Ravens are playing but I don't know if it was ever louder than it was during the USA vs. El Slavador match.
People wouldn't know that this sport (that can sometimes go 90 minutes without someone scoring) could be so exciting. The World Cup has been a hit here in the states, which may come to a surprise to most.
The USMNT has eclipsed 16 million viewers twice during their run in the World Cup, 16.4 million watched the the Belgium match and 18.2 million saw the Portugal match, both are ESPN records. That means that a soccer match had more viewers than the NBA Finals, NFL Draft, NBA Draft, or any NFL, NBA, MLB broadcasting.
Now a sport that isn't very popular in our country shouldn't have this type of effect right? Wrong. Soccer is a popular sport in our country, people just aren't exposed to it. I'm sure less than half of the people watching are not true soccer fans, but the same can be said about basketball and football too.
Those numbers were the results of a great mixture of patriotism, competitiveness, entertainment, and marketing. ESPN, which I tend to criticize daily, did a wonderful job injecting the "I Believe that we will win!" spirit into the American people. As you can see, it worked. And this is not saying that soccer will become the new "America's Past-time" but I do think it will garner more attention from the big networks, which is a big need for the MLS.
In order for the MLS to gain more popularity, they must get the players from across the waters to come play here, which will take money and lot's of it. And not only do we need the players, we need the teams. The MLS has it's own teams but it doesn't compare to the La Liga in Spain or Premier league in England.
In order to keep the current craze going, average fans will need to see teams like Barcelona, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Manchester U, Manchester City, and AC Milan live in action. That could keep that passion going and hopefully entice young athletes to play around with a soccer ball.
Our national team's performance in the 2014 World Cup was a great starting point for what I think will be an influx of young potential American soccer stars. Our current team now is still young enough to the point that the core will still be there to play in the 2018 World Cup. For the next 4 years, there should be a focus on finding the new face of USMNT that kids can aspire to be like. I think we should market international players also, to speed up the process of building popularity, but we need someone that we can call ours.
I hope coach Jurgen Klinsmann will be more confident in our squad and stay away from the conservative approach that cost us both games against Belgium and Germany. I thought leaving Landon Donavan off the team was a very questionable move, especially after Jozy Altidore tore his hamstring, because we lacked another offensive threat. Altidore's injury was not expected but injuries are never expected.
Defensively, we were stout, bend but don't break, primarily because of Tim Howard, who may be the best goalie in the world. His 16 saves against Belgium was something you tell your grandkids about if you witnessed it.
With all that being said, I think the United States has a bright future in the futbol universe. We showed the world that we can run with the best teams and we're hungry for more.