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07/02/2014

Using hockey as the barometer, soccer will grow ... glacially

Shortly after Tim Howard made his 98th save against Belgium, the United States' run ended, thus concluding the viewership for the majority of Americans in the 2014 World Cup.

For the soccer loathers, it was their time to gloat with champion lines such as - "Now we can watch real football", or timeless zingers like, "We don't have to pretend to care about soccer any more."

Tim-howard-soccer-world-cup-qualifier-mexico-usaAs much progress as the beautiful game has made since the U.S. hosted the World Cup in 1994, and as much of a giant party following the USMNT team was in this tournament, there is a cold truth to the trite lines. How many of the fans who followed the U.S. in this tournament will now pay attention to football in the English Premiere League, MLS or Europe's other top leauges from Germany to Spain? Or even the rest of this World Cup?

Using hockey as a barometer, a few.

In 1980, 2002 and 2010, the NHL was overly optimistic that the sport and the league would exponentially grow after Team USA had captivating runs in the Winter Olympics.

The NHL expanded greatly after the Miracle on Ice team, and slowly after the U.S. lost to Canada in the gold medal game in '02 and '10. All eyes in America were on both gold medal games, and most of them quickly lost interest in the sport after the Olympics concluded, and that's OK. But those teams made an impression with a few, and in this over-crowded world that is what you want.

ImagesIt only takes a few kids to watch the '14 World Cup to take up the sport, and make a difference later either in the stands, or on the field. That's what U.S. soccer should expect as a result of the '14 World Cup. 

As long as U.S. soccer follows NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's line of, "We compare ourselves against ourselves", soccer will be fine. If soccer, or pundits, compare the state of soccer against baseball, basketball, football, they're wasting their time.

Soccer is a young person's sport in the U.S., and growth is both painful and eternal. Unlike two decades ago, soccer is now a part of the sports marketplace in the U.S.; it has created a niche and is self sustaining. You don't have to love, like or get soccer to acknowledge those realities.

 

@MacEngelProf
tengel@star-telegram.com
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