23

June

USMNT: USA defeats Algeria. Is this Game the Aha Moment For Soccer Popularity in the US?

The US Men’s National Team defeated Algeria with breathtaking drama today to advance to the knockout round of the FIFA World Cup. Could this be the game that changes how American fans look at soccer? Could this be the tipping point for soccers popularity in the United States?

The prevailing attitude from most non-fans of soccer in the USA is this: Soccer is boring. Too many low scoring games and not enough action. Well, fans, what do you think now?

In what was possibly the most exciting 1-0 game I have ever witnessed in 40 years of watching soccer, the USA dispelled all notions that exciting has to mean high scoring.

In our present sports culture, where more touchdowns, runs, baskets, or goals are always desired, isn’t it nice to know there is another way?

The USA win today was as much of an edge-of-the-seat, nerve-wracking, spine-tingling experience I’ve ever had, regardless of the sport involved.

In an amazing display of sporting drama, the US endured yet another wrongly disallowed goal, shots that found the woodwork, and numerous golden opportunities that were squandered away.

As the game got into the 80th minute, I started to think about the story I would write about this game. The headline was going to be something like, “USMNT—The Unluckiest Team in the World.”

But Landon Donovan and his teammates never stopped coming. Perhaps the most well-conditioned team in the World Cup, the USMNT once again used its superior fitness to overwhelm the tired opponents late in the game.

Surely this exciting victory, achieved after 92 minutes of doing everything right except putting the ball over the goal line, is bound to change some perceptions and cause a paradigm shift among US sports fans.

Definition of paradigm shift: A change from one way of thinking to another. It’s a revolution, a transformation, a sort of metamorphosis.  It just does not happen, but rather it is driven by agents of change.

Could this game be a major agent of change to start the American population thinking differently about soccer?

I think it can.

American fans of soccer have been waiting for a moment like this for many years. Something to let the rest of the population in on what we already know—soccer can be just as exciting as your favorite sport.

I think we’ve all just witnessed the “aha”  moment for soccer in America, regardless of what happens the rest of this tournament.

Hope you didn’t mind the diversion from Packers football. We now return you to your regular programming…

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Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.

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25 Responses to “USMNT: USA defeats Algeria. Is this Game the Aha Moment For Soccer Popularity in the US?”

  1. Rich Beckman says:

    “Could this game be a major agent of change to start the American population thinking differently about soccer?”

    No.

    The best possible result is a bit more attention being paid to the remaining American games in this years Cup, and a slightly larger audience for the next World Cup.
    Sorry, but that’s the way it is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      You don’t have to be sorry, but I think you’re wrong. You probably have to be involved somewhat in the soccer culture of the USA to believe what I’m saying. My guess is you’re not.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. PackersRS says:

    Just a question, since you’re “more experienced” Al. Wasn’t soccer one of the most popular games during the Cosmos era? If I read the stories right, stadiums were absolutely crowded each and every game…

    So, yeah, this game opened a lot of people’s eyes. But I don’t think it’ll change completely. Let’s be honest: unless the MLS becomes relevant worldwide (or the USMNT, as you say), americans won’t give that much space to soccer. They won’t cheer for mediocrity.

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    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      yes, there were 78,000 fans in Giants stadium for Cosmos soccer games. I know because I was one of them!

      MLS is certainly a long ways off from being relevant…

      Sure, there’s plenty of work to do, but what I’m saying is this could change the way a lot of people in the USA look at the game of soccer, not that they’re going to run out and support their mediocre hometown MLS team.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

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  4. Madcity says:

    Many decades ago, I played soccer in college. It was a game of constant motion, strategy, read the competition and react. Quick decisions, minimal equipment and lots of energy. The hope then was the US would embrace the sport and grow to love it. We would field better athletes and compete on the world stage, sooner than later.

    For 15 years we stood on the sidelines – rain or shine – and sat in the bleachers – all four seasons. We cheered our sons on as they played the game of soccer. First as youngsters, barely more than toddlers, through grade school and high school. The game was unchanged and the hope was the US would embrace the world’s favorite sport, field better athletes and compete on the world stage.

    Today for nearly 92 minutes we watched our USA soccer players compete against a team from a country with a population 10 percent the size of the USA battle fiercely for pride and a chance to move on to the next round of competition. They put the disappointment of questionable calls behind them and fought to score the winning goal. The athletes are bigger, faster, better trained and coached. Yet the game of soccer is the same and the hope still is that we will embrace it and compete better on the world stage. Maybe this time it will be with our heartfelt and vocal support.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      You’ve touched on my underlying theme. Those that have been watching US soccer for many years have heard all the promises and seen all the disappointments. We’ve yearned for something to happen to catch the attention of the non-soccer fan and change their attitudes about the game. I’m hoping this was it.

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  5. Keith says:

    Great piece, Al. Going to disagree with PackersRS and here’s why: the Internet and cable/satellite TV. I believe soccer is primed for a US explosion. ESPN is starting to throw money behind it, Nike and the other shoe companies already have done so, and now with streaming technology capable of delivering HD quality video, the floodgates are about to open.

    Dig this: how much do Sunday mornings suck in the fall? You wake up, have some breakfast, maybe read the paper, and then you have nothing to do until 1PM. You’re dying for the games to come on. Well, why not turn on Fox Soccer Channel or GolTV and watch some EPL or La Liga? That’s what I did many a Saturday/Sunday morning. How about during the week while at work? Maybe it’s a lazy Wednesday afternoon and you’re just playing out the string or maybe it’s your lunch hour. Again, pop onto ESPN3.com and start watching a Champions league match.

    I never really appreciated how incredible modern technology is until I moved to LA last month. My dad asked if I would stay a Mets/Knicks/Rangers fan (he knew I would remain a Packers fan since I was a Packers fan in NYC.) When I replied, “Um, of course…” he caught himself and realized that I would be able to follow my teams just as well from the West Coast. To be honest, with the proliferation of blogs and the locally dedicated websites like ESPN NY and SBNation NY, I think the online coverage has surpassed the coverage of the local newspapers.

    Anyway, long story short – sure it would be great if MLS could take a step up in class, but I don’t think people will be watching too much MLS anyway. We have so many sports to watch at home I think the EPL and La Liga fit better into the American sports fan’s schedule (not to mention they are simply better leagues.) However, don’t count the MLS out just yet. European stars are starting to look to the MLS as a nice place to finish out their careers and get a nice payday rather than have to play in the Turkish league. Beckham was the first and you’re already starting to hear murmurs of players like Henry, Cannavaro, and Ballack thinking about coming across the pond once their elite years are past them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      The only thing is the aging star coming to MLS has been tried since season one with very little success. Remember Roberto Donadoni and Henry Mattheus with the Metrostars?

      I’d much rather see more non-star, but still international-level players drawn to the league, like the Red Bulls are doing now…

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. Ruppert says:

    I gather you have heard the old marketing adage that goes “Nobody ever went broke by underestimating the intellingence of the American consumer.”

    A real explosion in popularity would mean that soccer would somehow appeal to the largely stupid faction of American society. And I don’t think it will. There are not 2 or 3 vicious hits by safeties on wide receivers in every soccer game. There are not towering home runs in every game. There are not 25 breakaway slam dunks in every game. Soccer tailgating doesn’t exist. Fantasy “futbol” doesn’t exist.

    What percentage of the American populace is a hard core NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL or even NASCAR fan already? Soccer not only has to have an appeal, but it has to unseat an incumbent, so to speak, in the minds of many. I love the Packers and the NFL, and I watch a ton of MLB, including practically every Brewers game. If MLB and the NFL ceased to exist, I would probably be a huge soccer fan. But I don’t have time to take on another sports addiction. There are millions like me.

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    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      Conversely, there are millions looking for something new and different to get behind. A generation of kids that grew up playing soccer are now adults. They are influencing their non-soccer fan friends. And an event like this, where National pride comes into play, is the best platform for pulling people in.

      I think the only American sports that will continue to grow are Football and NASCAR (which I don’t consider a sport, but that’s another argument). The others are all heading downhill.

      With the US media getting behind this event, this could be the tipping point. I remember what it was like watching the World Cup 12 years ago. Hardly any coverage – I didn’t have to worry about hearing scores before I got home to watch the games on my VCR (remember those?). Now, it’s nearly impossible…

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      • Ruppert says:

        I’m not sure I entirely agree wit the notion that millions of Americans are looking for a new sport to get behind. However, I do agree that the popularity of youth soccer should make for more soccer fans as these kids turn into adults.

        There is only one thing that will REALLY do it: Sustained dominance. Americans love a winner, and we love to gloat (right, Red Sox and Yankees fans?) We need to win the whole thing or get to the final 4…repeatedly. It wouldn’t hurt to have an individual from the US thrust himself into the “best goal scorer/defenseman/goaltender on earth” arguments, too.

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    • PackersRS says:

      Just one thing: there IS fantasy futbol. Almost every national championship has it, the Champions League has it for sure…

      But it’s much more vague than the other fantasy leagues. Points for goal, assist, shots on target, tackles, negative points for goals missed, fouls, and so on, vary greatly from one site to another…

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  7. Chazman says:

    I think this world cup will be another stepping stone in the progression of soccer in America, just like the world cup was that was hosted in the states back in 1994. But it is going to be a baby step and you can tell because this morning, the day after the win, I was trying to catch a highlight on ESPN’s recycled sports from the day before show and for three straight segments not a mention of it. Baseball, Wimbledon were the sports du jour. ESPN’s Mike and Mike were busy with NBA free agency discussions (personally professional basketball is on par with the English sport cricket to me). But with wins like the US had yesterday another Landon Donovan will be born, there will be another kid who thinks that soccer is cool and we will be better off in years to come.
    I am just delighted that the US is onto the next round and looking forward to our next game.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      “But with wins like the US had yesterday another Landon Donovan will be born, there will be another kid who thinks that soccer is cool and we will be better off in years to come.”

      The only problem with this statement is, I’ve been hearing the same refrain for over 30 years. So I’m not satisfied with that. I’ve grown impatient. So I’m hoping this game will open up some eyes…

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      • PackersRS says:

        A brazilian kid has 3 options to play: soccer, soccer or soccer. Well, there are other sports, but them combined go for roughly 10% of soccer. If the kid is very tall he’ll play volleyball or basketball, and, of course, if his family has money, he might try other sports.

        But 99% of brazilian kids play soccer from very early on.

        If there were 4 other big sports, it would be kinda hard to “produce” the same kind of players we do now.

        With marginal interest from society, it’s even harder. Boys competing together with girls, the strenght of competition isn’t very good, so the players don’t progress much.

        Because brazilian kids are the best in the world, the competition is fierce, they end up getting even better as they grow.

        There’s one thing, though. You don’t need bats to play soccer. You don’t need pads. You don’t need a basket. You need roughly a ball made of socks, and slippers for goalposts, and 2 or 3 friends. That’s why soccer is so popular in the world.

        To sum it up, yes, there’s the obvious genetical factor. That isn’t a problem with americans. 250 pound guys can run a freaking 4.4 40 yard dash. But soccer is training. How the hell will americans, who play it once or twice a week for 1 hours or so, compete with kids who play it every single day, 4 or 5 hours a day, since they’re 4 years old???

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        • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

          The thing is, there are kids like that now in the US. I coached youth traveling soccer for 10 years from 1995 to 2005. There are plenty of kids in the US who are playing soccer as their primary sport. If they play another sport, it’s just for fun or to stay in shape for soccer. But this is a whole other topic. My point in the piece was about bringing more fans in…

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  8. The Unit says:

    I think and hope that you are right, Al. Reading about how yesterday’s victory led the floor of the stock exchange to erupt in cheers along with people in bars, offices, and streets across the country was exhilirating. I know that more people in this country than not think that soccer is a boring game, but I believe it is directly proportional to their understanding of what is going on. These folks do not see the nuances, and I can’t blame them – the US doesn’t have deep-rooted tradition and understanding of the game and its beauty. I think that once people are able to look past their pity grips about low scores and not being able to use their hands, they will see that soccer is one of the most beautiful sports on the face of this planet.

    Any impetus to positively change is a good thing, and I think at the very least this win was just that, if not more.

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  9. NickGBP says:

    I’ve played soccer for 10 years and I still wouldn’t choose to watch a game on TV. Worse than watching baseball by far.

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    • PackersRS says:

      Speaking as an outsider, there’s nothing worse than watching baseball. And I like almost every US sport. Curling is more exciting… There’s a reason that it’s popularity has decreased so much. It was for years the most popular “sport” in US, in Japan, in Venezuela… It’s not anymore. Soccer has taken over everywherem except in the US. But it’s coming…

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    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      Nick, now that I totally don’t understand… I’m flummoxed…

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  10. [...] The US Soccer Mens National Team defeated Algeria with breathtaking drama today to advance to the Knock-out round of the FIFA World Cup. Could this be the game that changes how American fans look at soccer? Could this be the tipping …This Blog [...]

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