By Michael Grey
I have said for years that the primary obstacle in the way of the growth of soccer as a spectator sport in this country is simple: We’re not very good at it. In decades past, it would have been kind to call the United States an also-ran on the international scene and nothing will kill interest in a sport or team here in America quicker than losing.
Enter: The 2014 World Cup.
Much has been made – and deservedly so – of the record television ratings for the tournament here in the States. Old-school soccer fans and newbies alike have lined up at pubs, viewing parties and couches to see what this plucky group of Americans could do when pitted against the best that Europe, Asia and Latin America have to offer. A win, a draw and a loss later, the Americans have emerged from the “Group of Death” and are moving on to the Round of 16. For the first time in the history of U.S. soccer, the Americans have made it to the knockout round of the tournament twice in a row.
While it’s obvious to anyone – especially anyone here in Seattle – that the sport has grown in popularity over the years, something more important has happened. The U.S. has proven that it can play the game with rest of the world.
In the course of making its way to the Round of 16, the U.S. has raised the floor of expectations and proven to a growing fan base here at home that it’s worth your attention. This is a squad that can’t be taken lightly, and while it’s still not nearly the best team on the planet, it reflects the notions that American sports fans have of themselves better than any of its predecessors.
Soccer has a face, or perhaps faces, now in the broken-nosed Clint Dempsey, Common look-alike Tim Howard and the speedy, Seattle-born DeAndre Yedlin among others. It may be a foreign game, long ago mastered by the Europeans, but there’s a legitimate American identity in soccer now.
Better still is the fact that this current roster of players should look even better in 2018, something many have suggested might have been coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s plan all along.
There’s room for improvement and Team USA has a ways to go before it approaches elite status, but the Americans have cleared soccer’s biggest domestic obstacle – they’ve proven they can compete.
Now, go beat Belgium.