1 Jul 2014

This World Cup is a breakthrough moment for US ‘soccer’

Americans like to win – hey, who doesn’t? – and they like their sports, so this World Cup is turning into a very happy experience. Team USA is inspiring neighbourhood parties, extensive bar bills and mass spending on red, white and blue paraphernalia.

The team has had a win (against Ghana), a draw (with Portugal), and a loss (to Germany).

Catching a flight during the game against Germany last week, you could see the indecision in the eyes of those watching at the airport bar: watch the game to its conclusion versus explaining why you missed the flight…

Ultimately, Germany won, but the US went through on points. Americans find themselves in an enviable position: a team still standing, knocking on the doors of the quarter-finals.

And so American soccer fans congregate and practice their pre-game rituals ahead of today’s tussle with Belgium (who, by the way, have won all three matches). Even the president re-scheduled a cabinet meeting for the morning since, as he said, “We all know that America will be busy this afternoon.”

Regardless of how the Americans fare, the biggest winner so far is football (or soccer, as it’s called here). This may be the third time in four World Cup tournaments that the US has made it through to the final 16 – but 2014 has had real impact.

Soccer has burst into the mainstream, winning sensational TV audiences thanks in no small part to convenient timing. The clocks in Brazil align nicely for American soccer fans, desperate to watch the game live but not prepared to get up in the middle of the night.

The game against Portugal (2-2) last Sunday evening drew an astonishing 25 million viewers. Granted that’s not as many as watched the playoffs for American football’s NFL this past season, but it is by far the most watched soccer game in American history.

Soccer aficionados are basking in the new-found recognition of the sport. The lonely nights spent hunched over satellite feeds of European games, relaying a sport no-one at work wanted to talk about, apparently a thing of the past.

Of course, this is America, so there’s already blowback, one right-wing commentator (Ann Coulter) railing at the game as un-American, its fans as unpatriotic, in an article which opens with the view that “Any growing interest in soccer a sign of moral decay”.  It’s all down to the immigrants who brought their fetish for football with them, apparently.

But as Americans prep their grills ahead of Friday’s 4 July national holiday, few seem too concerned. They just want to win.

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