As the World Cup sets to wrap up, and soccer mania in the United States once again starts to wear off, the once-every-four-year question resurfaces, what is the future of soccer in America? Lovers of the game will point to the incredible TV ratings, record numbers of tweets, and full bars across the country watching the games to explain why soccer is about to blow up in the United States. While haters will tell you it’s a one month phenomenon, that it’ll all go away the moment the final second ticks off the clock of Sunday’s final, and that soccer will return to a fringe sport for 47 months until the next World Cup.
Both sides have a strong point, but both are examining the future of the sport through the popularity of the game itself. As much as it pains me to say this, soccer is not in the immediate future for the United States. The MLS is not going to explode overnight, take down the NBA, NHL, or MLB, and become one of America’s top four sports. Throngs of people are not going to suddenly start setting alarms to wake up and watch Stoke City vs. Crystal Palace in an English Premier League showdown. La Liga, Serie A, Budesliga will remain foreign words rather than household names. And football will continue to be described as a game dominated by Peyton Manning, not Lionel Messi.
However this does not mean the future of soccer in this country is not bright. The sport itself may take 50 years to truly become popular in the United States. Heck, it may never happen, but the World Cup proved something very powerful, Americans love America. 16.5 million viewers did not tune in to the U.S. Belgium game because they love soccer, or even because they ever will love soccer. They stopped what they were doing to watch a team wearing red, white, and blue, and represent every American on the world’s largest stage.
The popularity of the World Cup in the U.S. was not a reflection on the country’s newfound love for a game they’ve never cared about before, it was a direct representation of how much the people of the United States love cheering for a team that plays for the United States.
What makes the World Cup so special is that for most, every person in their family, every one of their friends, and just about everybody they interact with on a day to day basis has the same rooting interest. It brings people together. Restaurants, bars, parks, stadiums, fields, all were filled to the brim with people wishing for the same outcome. People fell in love with the hoopla, not the sport.
Americans will remember this World Cup run for a long time, but they won’t remember John Brooks’ for his 86th minute goal, they’ll remember the party they found themselves in the middle of after it happened. It wasn’t about the sport. It wasn’t about the players. It certainly wasn’t about the competition. It was about the team, and what the team stood for, because they stood for me, and for you, and every one of our 317 million neighbors.
Moving forward, it won’t just be the diehard soccer fans that will follow the U.S. Men’s National team. The team has made its impact, and their popularity will continue to grow. Copa America 2016, that’s being held in cities across the U.S. will be filled with people looking for the same thrill they experienced two years prior. Fans will flock to meet the players, just so they can tell them where they were during the 2014 World Cup. And children will want to play the game not with the hope of signing a massive contract with Barcelona or Real Madrid, but so they can bring their country even more joyous times than even this team could.
The sport of soccer is not in the near future of the American sports pantheon, but the U.S. Men’s National team is, and their popularity will continue to grow with every match.
People need to stop focusing on the future of something they don’t really care about. In America, there are very few fans of the sport of soccer, but as this World Cup proved, there are millions of fans of an American team playing it. Keep loving what you love, and the rest will take care of itself. Albeit, very slowly.