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Cameron: Americans care about soccer now

By Stephen Cameron

So is that it, America?

Are we done?

The World Cup ended Sunday in a blaze of skill and excitement, with German newcomer Mario Goetze rifling home a magnificent goal in extra time to hand his country a victory over Argentina.

Billions of viewers — yes, billions — watched the finale of a tournament that holds the planet in thrall once every four years.

And that includes the United States, by the way.

Even with our gritty Yanks eliminated in the round of 16 after all sorts of thrills and spills, TV ratings are expected to be surprisingly muscular here in the land where we alone refer to “futbol” as soccer.

Most cities that have Major League Soccer (MLS) franchises organized “watch parties” so their fan groups could gather and enjoy the World Cup drama in something like a communal celebration of the game they love.

The anti-soccer crowd in this country — who seem to sound angrier all the time, a sure sign that they’re losing ground — will yell at jet-engine level that the World Cup is a one-time fluke, and now we can get back to “real” sports.

“It’s just like the Olympics,” they hiss. “For a couple weeks every four years, we see the story of some Swiss luger — or how a Norwegian recovering from nine fractures recovered to win a medal in the Nordic Combined.

“And a few days later, we’ve forgotten it all. We don’t know the sports, we aren’t interested, we don’t care.

“The Olympics are just there, and for a couple weeks it’s a big deal on the tube because the only other shows are about amateur jugglers and homeless opera singers who are scrambling for a shot at Vegas.

“But then it’s over. We don’t give a bleep about the luge. Good-bye. See ya!”

Fair enough.

I think that theory about the Olympics is partially correct — except for a few glamour events like women’s figure skating and the battle to become world’s fastest man.

Which is basically the world’s fastest Jamaican, but that’s another story.

Truthfully, do you know the world’s top five discus throwers?

No?

Me, either.

But the point here is that soccer is NOT the Olympic javelin competition, and it’s NOT going away now that the World Cup has come and gone.

We may not know the winner of Olympic long jump, but more and more Americans can tell you all about Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and the world’s galaxy of soccer stars.

The MLS is on a rapid rise that almost no one would have predicted a decade ago.

(Good luck getting tickets to see Sporting Kansas City, which is approaching 50 consecutive sellouts in its glitzy, noisy, generally terrific stadium…)

So instead of simply forgetting soccer now that a bunch of “them foreigners” have sorted out the World Cup trophy, American fans are turning their attention to homegrown heroes — and gearing up to watch the English Premier League and other European stars on TV.

That’s not even up for debate.

ESPN, Fox, NBC and other networks all bid furiously for the rights to the English game, which sells media packages (and assorted other things) in 260 countries.

The bosses at ESPN are sick that this World Cup will be their last for awhile — since Fox and Spanish-language Telemundo put up $1.2 billion for the U.S. rights to the events in Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022).

Those numbers don’t lie — nor does all the paraphernalia from European clubs that’s being sold in the United States.

And in the middle of it all are the American national teams — our women are a world power and the men are closing in on elite status.

The bottom line: We care now.

A lot of us.

Sorry to disappoint all the folks who keep complaining about the offside rule, but soccer is now officially an American sport.

All together now…

“I believe…

“I believe that we…”

You know the rest.

Steve Cameron is a special assignment reporter for The Mercury.









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