Landon Donovan‘s goal in the 91st minute of match on Wednesday sent the United States squad through to the knockout round of the 2010 FIFA World Cup and sent shockwaves of cheers across the United States. It’s safe to say that few people expected the United States to top our group and while this may be just the start of the success for the Americans, there is a bigger challenge looming for US soccer than our match with Ghana tomorrow afternoon.
The bigger challenge for the United States will be capitalizing on the success of our squad in South Africa and using it to help fuel interest in the game here in America. It’s no secret that football has become America’s pastime and sports like basketball and hockey are gaining more and more popularity. With Major League Soccer putting teams in various locations across the country and even bringing stars like David Beckham and Thierry Henry over from Europe, it’s clear that soccer is growing in popularity.
We saw the National Hockey League grow in popularity following the United States run to the Gold Medal game during the Olympics. While it is a similar situation facing US Soccer, who’s top league, MLS has their season in full swing there are a few big problems in the way.
The first of which is that several of the big names in American soccer don’t play for teams in their own country. Several of the young stars on the US squad, including Jozy Altidore and Oguchi Onyewu, both play for teams in Europe, who’s teams have already begun their offseasons. So fans who want to see them play will have to wait a few months before they take the pitch again.
Another problem could stem from their television deals. While ESPN does feature one game a week from the MLS, the majority of their games are played on pay-per-view networks like Fox Soccer Channel and MLS Direct Kick. So fans could be very limited in viewing games and let’s face it, it’s not like Sports Center really shows highlights of MLS games that often either.
The last roadblock in the way could be the nature of the casual fans. Casual fans know the names and faces of the biggest stars, many of which don’t play for the United States or for teams in MLS, so those players will also be starting their offseasons at the conclusion of the World Cup. Once those names and faces are no longer on our tv’s and we instead have to settle for American’s like Edson Buddle and Robbie Findley, will those same fans who were so excited during our run in South Africa stay interested or go back to watching the other mainstream sports in America?
It will be interesting to see how the MLS takes advantage of our success on a national level. The bottom line to take away from all of this if you are a soccer fan is that the game has taken roots in America and is gaining popularity. While it’s unclear if the game will ever become a mainstream sport here, it is heading in the right direction. And that is a good thing.