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Editorial: Soccer surge?

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Soccer, the world’s most popular game, has long struggled to carve out a niche in America’s sports pantheon. Acceptance, however, remains elusive among a U.S. sporting public that is hooked, it seems, only on games invented in North America. This despite more children than ever currently playing the game, the presence of a men’s professional league, and tens of thousands of immigrants camped out on soccer fields from sunup to sundown in city parks all over the country.

Indeed, though there was a sharp — but brief — uptick in interest after the U.S. hosted the 1994 Men’s World Cup, today the direct descendant of that tournament, Major League Soccer, rarely rates more than a mention in agate type in most newspaper sports sections.

It remains to be seen what effect the recently completed women’s World Cup will have on cultivating a stronger following for the sport here in the U.S. Skeptics, with history firmly in their corner, will see no cause for optimism. But anyone who saw Saturday’s final between the U.S. and China can be forgiven for believing otherwise.

When Brandi Chastain’s penalty kick curved past Chinese goalkeeper Gao Hong and landed in the upper-right-hand corner of the net at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Americans everywhere went wild. The goal gave the U.S. women their second World Cup title this decade. It was truly a marvelous moment that capped an equally marvelous tournament.

But Americans are big-event people. The Super Bowl, World Series and NCAA tournament attract rabid interest among even casual sports fans. It follows, therefore, that a soccer World Cup tournament held in the U.S. and won by the U.S. will command an impressive audience as well.

Still, there’s was a different feel to this event and its aftermath. When the U.S. won in 1991, one member of the media was on hand when they returned to the U.S. This year, there were 2,000 media credentialed to cover the World Cup. Major American corporations saluted the winners with full-page ads in newspapers and magazines. The team — and its victory — have been celebrated on all the network morning shows.

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At the very least, the success of the women’s team should pave the way for a women’s professional league in the U.S. That in itself would be an accomplishment, and a vital step in keeping the world’s game in the consciousness of the American people — where it belongs.

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