BY JOSEPH SIMS
Seattle native Joseph Sims, 21, traveled around the country during the World Cup in search of the heart and soul of soccer in the United States. Read about his journey in the Take 2 blog.
My last stop to watch the World Cup was at Fado in downtown Seattle. While it wasn’t packed so tight you couldn’t walk around (I have seen it that crowded for USA games before, including qualifiers), it was certainly busy.
Fans wearing German and Argentine colors were almost equal, but the neutrals were overwhelmingly in favor of Germany. Yet the most common jersey was that of Sounders FC, including the one I was wearing. It warmed my heart to see so much hometown support even in the midst of the biggest game in the world’s most popular sport.
The game and atmosphere were tense, understandable with so much on the line. Germany’s goal near the end of extra time to give them the lead was greeted with the largest cheer for any non-U.S. or Colombia goal that I had heard since the first week of the tournament. And it was a fantastic goal, too. Even some of the Argentinian fans applauded the beauty of it, though some shocked fans were stone-faced.
In the end, that one goal was enough, and “We Are the Champions” blared from the speakers as the final whistle blew. For the first time since 1990 (and the first time ever as a unified country), Germany was world champion.
Later that day, my parents and I attended the first professional soccer game in the world after the World Cup – the Sounders-Timbers match at CenturyLink Field. While attending to Whitman College in Walla Walla the past three years, I haven’t had any opportunities to go to Sounders games, and I’d forgotten how much I’d missed them. The electric crowd was matched (and, in some cases, surpassed) chant for chant by the large Timbers Army contingent. The fire and fireworks were dramatic (and American) touches to the match, and ash rained down on me after the fireworks. Seattle won, 2-0, and I was happy to join in the celebration of the Sounders’ second win over Portland in five days.
The day was a perfect capper to a wonderful month of soccer. As I’ve traveled across the country in search of the the heart of soccer in the U.S., one thing that struck me: Despite significant growth in recent years, soccer is still very much a niche sport in this country. The World Cup may bring out the biggest crowds and a bunch of bandwagon fans, but even then there it is apparent that those who pay attention throughout the World Cup are the minority. Even among those paying close attention to the competition, there was a clear difference between those who were along for the World Cup ride and those who watch European soccer and/or MLS regularly.
But the World Cup also provided the first opportunity in 20 years for Americans to see truly top-level soccer in a similar time zone (with all due respect to MLS, the World Cup is a considerable step up in quality). Normally, one must get up at 7 a.m. on weekends to watch televised Premier League matches, and in the previous World Cup the games started anywhere from 4:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. PDT. This year, the earliest games were 9 a.m. in the west, and the latest game started at 6 p.m. And for those further east, the games were even more accessible, with none starting any earlier than noon on the east coast.
The favorable time slots gave many the opportunity to watch great soccer for the first time, and contributed to huge audiences for the games. Everyone I talked to said that the crowds were bigger than they had been in 2010, and many said that the level of support they’d seen for all the games (not just the United States’) would have been unthinkable eight or twelve years ago.
Major tournaments serve as a perfect introductory stage for newcomers to fall in love with the beautiful game. One of them got me hooked during the 2004 European Championships.
And even though this World Cup is over, plenty more tournaments are coming in the next two years: the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup (in Canada, with the final in Vancouver), the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup (the North American championship, held in the United States), Euro 2016 (the European championships, expanded to 24 teams for the first time), Copa America 2016 (the 100-year anniversary of the first South American championship, held in the United States as an all-Americas tournament), and the 2016 Olympic Tournament in Rio de Janeiro.
I hope many will flock to support these tournaments, just as they came to support the World Cup. And while most will sadly stop paying attention to soccer until the next major tournament, some will be converted, like I was, and start watching more club soccer year-round.
And who knows? Someday soon we may turn this country as soccer mad as I am.
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