by Pete Mazzaccaro
If you didn’t see the U.S. National Team’s 2014 debut against Ghana Monday night, you missed a great match.
After a goal in the first minute of play by U.S. superstar Clint Dempsey, the Americans held onto a lead until a late goal by Ghana tied the match 1 – 1 in the 82nd minute.
With only 8 minutes of regulation time left, it looked as if the United States would likely have to settle for a deflating draw. Or worse, a last minute defeat at the hands of a Ghana squad that had looked sharper through the second half.
And then a magic moment happened. The 21-year-old John Brooks scored on a header from a corner kick in minute 86. It was a great moment in sports, period, one many will likely remember after the U.S. held on through nine more gut-wrenching minutes (five minutes of stoppage time was added) – including several close-call attacks from Ghana – to eke out the 2 – 1 win.
I know. A good portion of you reading this are probably groaning right now. Soccer? Who cares, right?
Soccer – known to most of the rest of the world as football (though it’s called soccer in Australia and southern Africa) – is not a terribly popular sport to Americans past childhood athletic programs. It’s not nearly in the same league as American football, baseball or basketball. In recent sales figures reported by FiveThirtyEight.com, Major League Soccer trailed the National Hockey League’s $1 million in sales by $500,000.
A lot of musing on the reluctance of Americans to embrace soccer has filled American media recently. Some note how interesting it is that a sport that is almost universally played by American children, with strong academic support up through college – where the school soccer team is likely more popular on campus than the baseball team – has failed to catch on more broadly with the general public.
One obvious answer to that is that the American sports consumer has a lot more available to him or her. In the rest of the word where local national leagues and the Premiere and Champions leagues are the sport everyone follows, this country has football, baseball, basketball, hockey and even NASCAR.
Major League Soccer has grown a great deal in the last five years, but it is still not as popular as any of the other sports I just mentioned.
One sure way the sport could catch on here is if the United States can learn to get good at the sport internationally.
Take the Phillies as an example. That team, for which a $5 ticket could be bought the day of any game before the 2007 and 2008 seasons, became a hot ticket once it started winning. The brand new Citizens Bank park helped, but nothing filled seats and fueled baseball interest in this town better than a Phillies team that actually won and won big. If the U.S. soccer team pushed deep into this World Cup, you would see national interest rise with each victory.
The United States. has a lot of work to do to get there, though. It’s not a team that’s even favored to make it out of its World Cup group, called the Group of Death because the other three teams are made up of very experienced national players – Ghana, Germany and Portugal.
A Cinderella run is possible, though. Ghana is beat, and Portugal has suffered key injuries to top players and looked dreadful in its 4 – 0 loss to Germany.
So stay tuned. This World Cup might get even more exciting in the coming weeks if the United States. can get out of its group and compete in elimination games. One win there, and we might see soccer get even more popular.