USA Eliminated, But World Cup Still A Success
The United States is out of the World Cup, but soccer’s popularity in America isn’t going anywhere.
As the number two team out of Group G (behind the Germans, of course), Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and company played Group H winner Belgium on Tuesday. Belgium, the #11 team in the world, held their own and then some against the Americans, the #14 team.
The Americans had to get their game together following a game against Germany in which they rarely had possession of the ball. They did hold 53% possession against Belgium but still had major struggles in containing their offense. Belgium 27 shots on goal to USA’s nine and it took an extraordinary performance from goalie Tim Howard to keep it a scoreless game through regulation.
Striker Chris Wondolowski missed a huge chance to win the game in regulation but didn’t cash in amid confusion on whether or not there was an offside call. The game went into extra time scoreless, before Kevin De Bruyne untied it in the 93rd minute. Romelo Lukaku added another in the 105th, giving Belgium a 2-0 lead. USA’s Julian Green scored just two minutes later to get them right back in the game but the comeback fell short.
While the loss kicked Team USA out of the knockout stage and prevented them from matching their best World Cup effort in the 2002 semifinals, the 2014 World Cup still has to be seen as a huge success for the Americans. Exceeding expectations in outlasting Portugal in the group of death has prosperous benefits for the near future.
Even before the World Cup began, soccer’s huge progress here made 2014 the most anticipated World Cup yet, aside from hosting it in 1992. Major League Soccer, which didn’t even exist back then, will have 23 active teams once Miami decides on a stadium site compared to just 10 a decade ago. And America finally features a sports market where the MLS, and soccer in general, rivals all other pro sports leagues.
That market is the Pacific Northwest. It’s home to the Seattle Sounders FC and Portland Timbers, rival franchises that began MLS play in 2009 and 2011, respectively. Seattle’s home attendance is routinely 30 to 40 percent higher than the other franchises. Seattle, Portland, and even Vancouver have done the best job of hooking younger generations.
The rest of the league is catching on. TV ratings are up, teams are slowly acquiring better international talent and, most importantly, fans are receptive to the changes and hungry for more.
American interest in soccer has always peaked at World Cup time and ripple effects are felt in the MLS. But then it would fade, as everyone goes back to baseball and football training camps. In 2014, soccer has its best chance yet to stick around.
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Photo Source: Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today