Is Soccer Catching On?

As regular readers know, Paul is a long-time, very knowledgeable soccer fan; not only that, a fan of the Everton Toffees–Toffees?–which is sort of like being a Washington Senators fan, which Paul once was, too. Scott and I, on the other hand, are as uncomprehending of soccer as most American sports fans.
For as long as I can remember, soccer was supposed to be the next big thing on the American sports scene. Yet, decade after decade, it hasn’t happened. I read today that this year, for the first time since 1930, the U.S. team won its first-round World Cup group. 1930! Babe Ruth was in his prime then, and Bronko Nagurski was a rookie; who knew that the U.S. had an internationally competitive soccer team? Apparently eighty years ago, just like today, soccer was about to break through with the American public.
Still, there are signs that this year, Americans actually are tuning into the World Cup and may be starting to take soccer seriously as a real American sport. As evidence, I offer this video from a bar in Nebraska–Nebraska! OK, it was Lincoln, but still. The video shows the last minute and a half of the U.S. victory over Algeria, with Landon Donovan’s winning goal:

That looks to me like typically hard-core American fans getting excited about a sports event. It reminds me a little bit of the 1958 NFL championship game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts. For some reason, it seemed like every sports fan in America watched that game, and it turned out to be a classic. The Colts, led by Johnny Unitas–the greatest quarterback in NFL history, in my opinion–won a thrilling overtime victory. More than anything else, that game launched the NFL as a favorite of American sports fans.
Who knows? Maybe this year’s World Cup will be similar; maybe millions of Americans will watch the matches, cheer on athletes like Landon Donovan, Tim Howard and Jozy Altidore, and become soccer fans. Maybe soccer has finally arrived.
For what it’s worth, this is what those Nebraskans were watching:

Seems like a pretty good sports event to me.
UPDATE: One difference between 2010 and 1958 is that games can now be re-enacted with Lego pieces. This reconstruction of key moments from the game between the U.S. and the U.K. which ended in a tie, due to a stunning error by the British goalie, is from the Guardian:

PAUL adds: If yesterday’s match doesn’t provide a huge lift to soccer in the U.S. nothing will. But the problem American soccer faces is that once the World Cup ends, its main product will be Major League Soccer, the quality of which is nothing like World Cup soccer.
That’s where the analogy between the 1958 Colts-Giants game breaks down. That classic was just a better version of what the NFL could regularly offer. World Cup soccer is almost a different sport from what the MLS serves up. The quality of MLS matches is probably somewhere between that on display in the second and third tier leagues in England. Those matches don’t draw all that well even with the Brits (the teams are mostly in very small markets, though).
The English Premier League offers excellent soccer and its matches can be seen on ESPN, if you’re willing to get up early on Saturday morning. Viewership should increase next season, especially if more American players crash the EPL. But a foreign league can’t ignite soccer mania in this country.
So, unless Major League Soccer improves dramatically, this may be a case of “nothing will.” Which, by the way, is fine with me.


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