Point/Counterpoint: Is soccer more popular after the U.S.’s near-World Cup win?

BY DI SPORTS STAFF | JUNE 30, 2009 7:21 AM

Soccer is more popular now in the United States

The United States may have lost in the FIFA Confederations Cup final, but it made huge strides in attracting a national following.

The American team advanced further than ever before in an international tournament, even knocking out No. 1 Spain for the first time in our history. We are no longer the laughingstock of the world, and morale is high.

The sport is finally getting the attention it deserves in the States. Americans love winners. Americans follow winners. Our soccer team is proving it can be a winner. With its recent international success, it is being rewarded by increased media attention.

I listen to sports radio almost every day I’m driving. When I tuned in this past weekend, radio hosts were holding forums, discussions, and segments focusing on U.S. soccer. Listeners were calling in with excitement. People were talking about how soccer has arrived and said they would devote more attention to soccer now that we are internationally competitive.

This is great news.

ESPN has famously neglected providing coverage for soccer — that has changed. ESPN has recently committed to soccer by striking a deal enabling it to broadcast 46 games of England’s Barclays Premiership League soccer circuit this year. We can now see arguably the best league in action. I think people will watch.

A non-mainstream U.S. sport such as soccer needs winners to be watched. Let us look at golf. Tiger Woods has brought the casual fan to the greens. Before Woods, golf was struggling to maintain any viewership. Woods’ extraordinary success has increased golf’s popularity exponentially; more play and watch golf thanks to his accomplishments.

With the recent performance of the U.S. soccer team, I think millions will watch and cheer next summer when it travels back to South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Soccer’s popularity has now increased in the United States.

— by Travis Varner

Soccer is not more popular now in the United States

The United States’ performance in FIFA’s Confederation Cup is not going to change the way Americans view the sport, and it definitely isn’t going to happen overnight.

I know one thing for sure, I’m not suddenly going to watch the MLS or professional soccer religiously. Sports are measured in success, and they are all about respect. While I think soccer may have earned a little of the latter, since when has losing a game been considered a success?

The Olympic men’s basketball team in 2004 won the bronze medal and was considered underachievers. Why should this be any different? It seems we’re not interested in games that our country does not dominate, and in soccer, we’re far from that.

Bring on the rest of the Major League Baseball season. Bring on the start of the NFL, college football, and even fantasy football. Any of those will do.

Not even David Beckham, a international soccer star, had an effect. Nor did Pele with the New York Cosmos in the 1970s. Heck, even the big win against Mexico in 2002 that supposedly put the United States on the soccer map didn’t do much.

Most of us are going to completely forget about soccer until next summer’s World Cup. Honestly, before the Confederations Cup started, how many of us knew that it was even taking place? I’m willing to bet not many.

However, it’s not our fault. I think soccer is still a generation or two away from catching on mainstream in the United States, if it ever will. Growing up in this generation didn’t help much. We didn’t have Major League Soccer until 1993, so it’s still relatively new, and some even say this was partly because we just wanted to attract the World Cup here and not what the United States really wanted.

Soccer is never going to be popular in the United States until the top athletes decide to play. Soccer was always considered the sport to play as kids until they’re ready for “real” sports such as football, baseball, hockey, and basketball.

Until this changes, neither will the state of soccer in the United States.

— by Patrick Rafferty

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