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World Cup: Soccer finding its place in Oklahoma City fans' hearts

As the World Cup begins in Brazil, soccer is no longer the outlier that it was even a few years ago in Oklahoma City. Just ask Colin Mall, president of the OKC chapter of the American Outlaws, an unofficial fan club of the U.S. national soccer teams.
by Jenni Carlson Published: June 11, 2014

Colin Mall used to see a lot of scrunched foreheads and squinted eyes when he talked about his favorite sport.

“I’m trying to find the Chelsea game,” he’d say.

Cue the quizzical look.

“Chelsea game?” folks would reply. “Are girls playing?”

Not so long ago, talking soccer in Oklahoma was a little like speaking a foreign language. Corner kicks? Red cards? International friendlies? Folks in our sports-mad state might understand the basics, but few knew more than that.

But as the World Cup begins Thursday in Brazil, soccer is no longer the outlier that it was even a few years ago.

Want evidence?

Let’s start with Mall’s cell phone.

Every few minutes, it rings or beeps or vibrates. Mall is the president of the Oklahoma City chapter of the American Outlaws, an unofficial fan club of the U.S. national soccer teams. Whenever someone posts to the chapter’s Facebook page, he gets a notification.

Lately, there have been lots of them.

People are excited for the U.S. to play its first match Monday against Ghana. They are pumped. They are passionate. They are patriotic.

What has changed?

Mall is convinced that TV has a lot to do with it.

Four years ago, World Cup matches were widely available on television, and American viewers were treated to some wildly entertaining matches involving the U.S. The Americans managed only draws in their first two matches and needed a victory in their final group-stage match against Algeria. The match went into stoppage time as a scoreless tie, and had it ended that way, the U.S. would’ve been eliminated.

Then, Landon Donovan scored one of the great late-match goals in American soccer history, a rebound that sent even lukewarm fans into hysterics.

The Americans’ next match against Ghana was a TV ratings bonanza as nearly 15 million households tuned in. That number is comparable to Game 3 of NBA Finals on Tuesday night.

Not the Super Bowl, but for soccer in the U.S., it was a big number.

That helped spur change in the broadcast of soccer in the United States. In the years since that last World Cup, American viewers can now easily see matches from the UEFA Champions League and the English Premier League.

That sort of thing was unheard of when Mall was a kid growing up playing soccer in Edmond.

“Most of the time you would have to catch a game ... the day after it was played,” he said. “All the networks are fighting for the rights for them now.”

These days, Mall and other soccer fans gather most Saturday mornings to watch English Premier League matches. It’s quite a change from when he used to mention Chelsea, a longtime powerhouse in the league, and folks would have no idea what he meant.

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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