Despite America's exit from the World Cup, soccer's growth in U.S. is likely to continue

The notion that everyone will stop caring about soccer now that the Americans are out of the World Cup? That ain’t true.
by Jenni Carlson Published: July 2, 2014
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photo - United States fans cheer before the start of the World Cup soccer match between the United States and Belgium at a viewing party in Indianapolis, Tuesday, July 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
United States fans cheer before the start of the World Cup soccer match between the United States and Belgium at a viewing party in Indianapolis, Tuesday, July 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Sweat was still dripping off Tim Howard’s brow when this social media soundoff appeared about World Cup mania.

“Now, everyone can stop pretending to care about soccer.”

No doubt there are folks in these here United States who got swept up in the fervor, who were inspired by an unexpected run by the Americans, who weren’t soccer fans before and won’t be soccer fans after. That’s fine. It happens when a bandwagon has a blowout.

But the notion that everyone will stop caring about soccer now that the Americans are out of the World Cup?

That ain’t true.

With Team USA making the knockout round and very nearly stealing a spot in the quarterfinals from a better Belgium squad, Americans were buzzing. Football stadiums from Chicago to Dallas filled with fans watching on the big screens. Millions more folks stopped what they were doing in the middle of their work day and tuned in on the TV.

The Tuesday afternoon broadcast drew a 9.6 rating, a number that was bigger than all but two college football games last season. Only the national championship game and the Rose Bowl had more viewers than that World Cup match.

Americans love their football, but these past couple weeks, they’ve loved their futbol, too.

But now that Team USA’s run is done, what’s next? Will the momentum die or continue to build? Will the mania spawn prolonged interest or be a flash in the pan? Will there be noticeable changes around the nation and even in Oklahoma?

The truth is, no one knows for sure. The weeks and the months to come will better tell the story, but much like the bumps that we’ve seen after previous World Cups, it’s hard to believe that this one won’t change the sport in this country, too.

“I wouldn’t expect it to not get bigger,” said Parris Sanders, general manager of the Edmond Soccer Club. “I think it will continue to grow in popularity.”

Sanders is a soccer guy, of course. He’s been a longtime coach and now a longtime administrator in one of the biggest soccer clubs in the state. And even by his own admission, soccer people in this country tend to be soccer nuts.

He’s a bit biased toward the sport.

But he also has hard evidence of the kind of impact events like this can have. Soccer saw a surge in America four years ago during the World Cup, and the Edmond Soccer Club is different today because of it. In the years since that last World Cup, the club added an under-4 league, a league for disabled players and an adult league. And those leagues have continued to have strong interest every year since they were created.

The same goes for every other league in the club. From the last World Cup until now, every league has seen an increase in overall registration of between 5 percent and 10 percent.

“Not explosive growth,” Sanders said.

But growth nevertheless.

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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
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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