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Why Today’s World Cup Final is Vital to Soccer Growth In USA

 Why Todays World Cup Final is Vital to Soccer Growth In USA

Today’s World Cup Final between Netherlands and Spain will have an immense impact on the growth of soccer in the United States.

While soccer continues to thrive among the die-hard fans who play the sport and/or watch it on television, the jury is still out regarding whether soccer will become more popular among mainstream America. After the United States got knocked out of the tournament by Ghana, a lot of mainstream America who had been watching World Cup 2010 tuned out. Some stuck around to watch the rest of the tournament. But many of those who dropped out after the United States exited will most probably return today for the World Cup Final.

It’s that reason why this final is of huge importance not only to the residents of Netherlands and Spain, but also to the growth of soccer in the United States.

The outlook for today’s game doesn’t look good, though. Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk is adamant that he wants his Dutch side to grind out a result. Spain, despite their skillful players seem destined to play two defensive holding midfielders, which will severely reduce the attacking flourish of the Spanish side. So, the game looks destined to be a tense low-scoring match that will probably end nil-nil in regulation and will move into extra time and perhaps even penalty kicks before a goal is scored.

For soccer connoisseurs such as ourselves, we can see the beauty in those type of tactics even if we may disagree with them (I certainly do). But for soccer non-believers or casual fans, a dull World Cup Final between Netherlands and Spain such as the one we predict will obliterate a lot of the hard work that soccer has achieved this summer. It’ll turn casual fans off the game. It’ll feed into everything that the critics despite soccer for. It won’t help the growth of the sport in the United States.

Don’t get me wrong. Soccer will continue to grow in the United States. But in order for it to become more popular among the mainstream it’s more important than ever for the World Cup Final to be entertaining. For mainstream America that isn’t soccer experts, they’ll think that the World Cup Final should be the most entertaining game of them all, rightfully so. Common sense would argue that the two teams who make it to the final are the two best in the tournament. Therefore the game should be entertaining.

Soccer aficionados such as ourselves can see the holes in that argument. It’s not always the best teams who make the final. Sometimes it’s the team with the best defense or the one who capitalizes on chances better than its opponent.

Needless to say, I’m very concerned that after all of the hard work by ESPN, ABC, Univision and FIFA, that the 2010 World Cup will go down as a poor advertisement for the sport of soccer. Some of you may argue that defensive soccer can be exciting. And some of you may argue that we shouldn’t care about soccer being enjoyed by the masses and that it needs to remain a niche sport. I thoroughly disagree. With the current recession, many of us have been spoilt by the amount of soccer coverage we see on television and the Internet. There’s no guarantee that this will always last, so it’s more important than ever to make sure that corporations are making money from showing soccer rather than losing money hand over fist. If we want soccer to succeed in this country, it’s important that more of mainstream America falls in love with the sport.

Today could be a critical turning point in the success of soccer in the United States. No pressure Netherlands or Spain, but we’re banking on you making this an entertaining game. Otherwise, expect to see the knives come out from the traditional US press in the coming days.

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About Christopher Harris

Founder and publisher of World Soccer Talk, Christopher Harris is the managing editor of the site. He has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Guardian and several other publications. Plus he has made appearances on NPR, BBC World, CBC, BBC Five Live, talkSPORT and beIN SPORT. Harris, who has lived in Florida since 1984, has supported Swansea City since 1979. He's also an expert on soccer in South Florida, and got engaged during half-time of a MLS game. Harris launched EPL Talk in 2005, which was rebranded as World Soccer Talk in 2013.
View all posts by Christopher Harris →

46 Responses to Why Today’s World Cup Final is Vital to Soccer Growth In USA

  1. Lucky Luciano says:

    If these aren’t the best two teams in the World Cup then they are certainly two out of the best three (Germany having missed out).

    I agree that a boring final won’t help convert mainstream US sports fans, NFL fans if you like, to the sport.

    But frankly, today isn’t about mainstream American fans. It’s the World Cup final and a celebration for all of us who love the most wonderful game on earth.

    If some guy in the Mid-West doesn’t appreciate Spain’s passing game or the Dutch counter-attacks then, I’m sorry, but it’s really his loss not our’s.

    Enjoy the Game!

    • thomas says:

      right on.

      US soccer will be continued to loved and admired by those of us who grew up with the game…

      WC tourneys won’t change fan enthusiasm until US fields a team that can go the distance…

  2. TeddyKGB says:

    The basic problem with this World Cup is the most obvious: the vuvuzelas. They’re a silly South African affectation, not some sort of cultural touchstone – and this is the WORLD Cup, not the South Africa Cup. They had to have suspected that the millions (billions?) of dollars that FIFA and Disney invested could be flushed down the drain by the cacophony of cheap plastic noisemakers, and they could have stopped it. How Holland and Spain play in the final doesn’t affect the popularity of this World Cup nearly as much as they do. We should all pray that the vuvuzelas stay in South Africa, and judging by all the MLS I’ve seen, they are.

    • thomas says:

      well, Nashville is in the running for the 2018 Cup…

      as a business venture, I’m going to start designing a one-stringed, plastic mini banjo…

      imagine what the stadiums would sound like if we sold a bunch of those…

    • TeddyKGB says:

      Not sure why my comment is being downvoted; if we’re trying to attract new fans (especially Americans) to the sport, FIFA can’t give them an excuse to turn the channel — and there is no recent phenomenon more likely to do that than a sustained buzzing noise for 90 minutes.

      Soccer, like hockey, is a defensive sport, and almost requires that the fans have played it themselves in order to enjoy it. American sports are deliberately oriented around offense, and they will get bored if they don’t already have a familiarity with the sport. (The only times Americans like to use the word “defense” is when it’s in reference to military spending.) Luckily, there is an entire generation of kids (and their parents) who were raised on youth soccer — and that’s why you are finally starting to see growth in the U.S. of soccer as a spectator sport.

  3. joe says:

    I am way past the point of if Americans going to like soccer or not , who cares if Joe sixpack of NFL going to sitdown and watch the final of the WC on ABC this afternoon. I sure for shit pay any attention to the so called World series or NFL..

  4. MAR1962 says:

    OK so let’s hope for a goal early in the proceedings that will force one team to open things up.

    About the vuvuzelas: the sound engineers have done a great job in dampening the buzzing sound so no big deal for me … and they’ve added a talking point (for “civilians,” not soccer nuts) for the event, so that’s good … and people in the venues have seemed to enjoy it, so if that’s part of South African football, terrific … and by the way, bring on the Brazilian “affectations” — dancing girls and samba bands — for 2014, by all means.

    • TeddyKGB says:

      I’d much rather have dancing girls and samba bands spread viruses and make loud noise than a plastic horn. :P

  5. sucka99 says:

    “But in order for it to become more popular among the mainstream it’s more important than ever for the World Cup Final to be entertaining. For mainstream America that isn’t soccer experts, they’ll think that the World Cup Final should be the most entertaining game of them all, rightfully so. Common sense would argue that the two teams who make it to the final are the two best in the tournament. Therefore the game should be entertaining.”

    what final game IS entertaining for a neutral? this past NBA finals was a defense-fest. the Super Bowl is always more important to neutrals for what happens off the field (halftime show, commercials, etc.). Defense wins championships – which is why title games/series are always boring for the neutrals.

    this game will have little effect on mainstream adoption. mainstream adoption is more dependent on time (old people dying off) and money (MLS being able to pay higher wages) and even then there’s probably a ceiling. Not to mention the threat of the Chinese effect on our financial sitch. The 2006 final was a snooze-fest outside of the headbutt and look at the growth in the game since then.

  6. I agree, I moved to the US from Peru 15 years ago when I was 17. I took me a while to understand and enjoy an American Football game which is to me much better on TV than at the stadium due to all the breaks in the game. My conversion to American Football was due to a superb Brett Favre performance against San Fransisco in 1995, even tough I wasn’t fully understanding every call I knew I was watching a great sportsman in action.Today’s final needs to do just that or people will feel the same way I felt after trying so hard to enjoy baseball: bored and frustated.

  7. Pepe Randulfe says:

    Football (soccer) in the USA is in pretty good healt. Its beauty consists in that pretty much everybody can play it and you don’t need to dress in medieval plastic armor, weight 250 pounds or be 7 feet tall. It’s great to watch 2 great teams play it in this final, but it’s more rewarding to play it yourself or to watch your kids do it. It’s also a great tool to teach kids social skills: collaboration, effort, rules, fair play… And let’s not forget that the USA has the most and the best soccer fields in the world.

  8. thomas says:

    on your point about the critical media, and as a suggestion…

    sites like this might get more proactive, and maybe you have already, but i’ve really enjoyed popping in and seeing what folks have had to say about the WC, but i had to search for it to know it existed.

    blogs like this could make a difference in future, maybe do some advertising and get your material out to the new aggregating websites next time WC comes aroung, just a thought

  9. Stop Being Pussies says:

    The players need to stop being such pussies if Americans are going to embrace the game. It’s one thing to be legitimately hurt, but all the faking makes most Americans want to reach through the screen and hurt the guy for real.

    • sergio lima says:

      FIFA most do something about the diving. Heavy penalties. Or even people who loves soccer will stop watching. I will. I am tired of the BS.

  10. Ben says:

    This WC hasn’t been a great advert for ‘soccer’ at all, even in the UK we’ve been complaining about it, and we’re obsessed with the game and normally lap it up.

    There’s been drama, but the quality of play has been significantly worse than the last European Championship & World Cup.

  11. Abram says:

    I know I was the only one of my friends that was excited when the World Cup began. I had a bunch of my friends ask what I was doing for the Final. Regardless to say a bunch of them invited themselves over, and now my wife and I are hosting a party with close to 20 people watching it on our TV.

    While I may spend more of the game defending the sport, rather than actually seeing the game, I am excited that so many of our friends have interest in the sport.

    It’s almost as if I was hosting a Super Bowl party. A big part of American sports is about the event and not the sport. That’s why people watch games in bars, it is the Super Bowl draws more viewers than the World Series, the Stanley Cup, or the NBA Finals. It is literally win or go home. The stakes are way higher than game 1 of a 7 game series.

    In the Super Bowl, the pregame festivities are more important than the actual game to the casual fans. Being able to say you were there, or knowing where you were is part of the game. Watching with friends who cheer, jeer, or are otherwise uniformed is part of the experience, and yes most American’s are more interested in the experience than the actual game. This is true for football and American football.

    To me, people wanting to come over in droves to see this game is a HUGE step forward for the sport in America.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Abram, thanks for sharing the story. Definitely good to hear that interest is growing!

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

  12. Abram says:

    Random Followup: I am unable to watch non ESPN2 MLS matches due to where I am now living. But I have started following though this site and majorleaguesoccer.com. I finally saw the “It Only Takes 90 Minutes for the World to Change” commercial and it is really good. ESPN, or whomever, needs to air that commercial once in awhile.

  13. Charles says:

    Gaffer,

    I almost completely disagree with you. When the World Cup was here, it was very well attended and very well followed by the masses and yet, 16 years later, MLS is 15-16k per game just like then. I think for soccer to take off here it will take us keeping our national team players here. That will get the fans coming, look at the New England game. 20k…why ? Landon and Buddle playing.

    I do agree the growth will continue. But anyone with any eye at all could look at the rookies/2nd year player making an impact and how good some of those players are to see the league is a lot better, but the perception of the masses is MLS is WAY behind still.

    Changing that perception is the key, not educating people about soccer.

    • sergio lima says:

      Charles, Americans like winners. Somebody most invest a ton of money in one big metropolitan team and make them great. When the people see that one American team is playing agains the Mexicans and destroying them, playing against the South Americans and beating them and playing the club FIFA world cup and beating Europeans power house team like Inter Milan or Manchester, and then you will see a explosion in fan base numbers. World cup is ok, but people who loves soccer loves because they have a local team to cheer for. There are no exeptions, in every country where soccer is big, the people who follow soccer rather see their local teams winning championships than the national team. For those who really love soccer, it is wonderful to have the world cup, but is even better that is over.

  14. americanizingsoccer.com says:

    MLS is exciting Soccer. It should garner higher ratings after this World Cup. The product on the field may not be EPL top 5 teams level, but it is definitely worthy of respect from sports fans. I think this final showed some great moves by the Spanish players especially. It wasn’t a great final and the yellow cards really slowed down the fluidity of the match.

  15. Texjah says:

    If the soccer cult thinks this is going to sell Americans, you completely misunderstand American tastes…for better or worse, this game bores the crap out of the most of us. I don’t expect the world to understand the excitement of a brilliant 1-0 pitchers duel, or a brutal defensive battle resulting in a 10-7 final. But, I dont act like the rest of the world is stupid or unsophisticated because they don’t like or understand our games. Frankly, Americans don’t go for that attitude, either, and the American soccer crowd often gives off that vibe

    • sucka99 says:

      quite frankly that attitude is alive and well from soccer lovers as well as soccer haters. There are just as many people that hate a 1-0 pitchers duel as hate a 1-0 soccer game.

  16. Rich says:

    Soccer needs rule changes, as did hockey, to increase scoring. Yes, Americans do appreciate the defensive aspect of any game, just look at the respect the Pittsburgh Steelers or Baltimore Ravens garner in the NFL. However, when the majority of games have 1-0 scores for 90 minutes, it gets pretty boring. The NHL suffered during the mid 90s from the dreadful neutral zone trap that killed all scoring. The NHL made goalie pads smaller and of regulated size and eliminated the red line to increase scoring. Perhaps their should be no offsides calls in soccer, or increase the size of the goal. BTW, how does anyone know they’re offsides if their is no line or boundary on the actual field… weird. Perhaps lower the number of players to 9 to open up more of the field.

    One poster was right on the money about players being pussies. Guys were crying too… now that’s pretty gay. I would love to see a hockey player and a soccer player get into a fight. The soccer player would flop on the ground (after trying to kick the hockey player like a girl) after one punch and start crying.

    • short passes says:

      Will the hockey player take off all of his defensive armor before the fight starts? BTW — the so-called hockey fights are ridiculous — two grown men, slipping around on the ice, swatting at each other while nearly every inch of their skin is covered with padding. Hockey players lose their teeth because they don’t have brains enough to wear face-guards —ooohhhh, how brave!!!

    • MLS Fan says:

      Rich,

      I enjoyed reading your comment, or at least until you went homophobic on us.

      It’s 2010. Grow up.

    • sucka99 says:

      1. the NHL didn’t need rules changes, it needed an audience in the US that could bankroll its expansion. Had the NHL stayed in Canada it would have been just as popular and “boring” as Americans who aren’t used to the rules thought/think it is

      2. how do you know offsides without a line? By learning the rules

      3. Brett Favre is gay then. So is Wince Carter.

    • Dave C says:

      Rich – your post is the kind of thing that gives Americans a bad name. Football is already the #1 sport around the world (by far), and has billions of fans. Why would they radically change the rules (by changing goal sizes or scrapping off-sides) just to try to appeal to a relatively small number of Americans.

      Also, you should probably do some research before making dumb suggestions. In the old NALS (1970s-1980s) they DID try out crazy experiments like modifying the offside rule or eliminating it altogether. And by all accounts, the games played under those rules were ridiculous. And what happened to the NALS in the end??

      As for how people know they’re off-side, well as someone else pointed out, it’s quite simple. You just have to understand a fairly simple rule.

      And as for the “gay” comments…how old are you??

  17. short passes says:

    As a minority of ONE, I have to say that I loved this final!! Admittedly the first half was a bit rough but I attribute that to the Dutch penchant for hacking and tripping. The flurry of yellows eventually prevented them from continuing that approach and allowed Spain to impose their passing game on the Dutch. I don’t blame the Dutch for that approach since IMO the Spanish team is so skilled that no team in the world can attempt to play them without taking a largely defensive stance.
    For me the Spanish passing game is sheer beauty, almost miraculous. I feel sorry for those who like the Old Gaffer can’t appreciate it because I’m afraid you won’t see this level of team skill at the WC for a long time —la Ligan this fall— but not at the WC.

    Ben–if the level of play overall wasn’t up to par, just remember that your boys contributed.

    • sucka99 says:

      nah – I enjoyed it – moreso than the 2006 final. Would have enjoyed it more if Robben had scored on his 2 breakaway attempts. Spain’s passing was great but nowhere near what they showed against Germany

  18. Rich says:

    Sucka, you do realize that 4 of the 6 “original 6″ NHL teams were not Canadian? I agree that the NHL tried to expand too much, but viewership of the NHL and hockey olympics is MuCH higher in America than for soccer. In addition, the league had its hhighest scoring era during the 80s. By not restricting goalie pad size, many began to essentially cheat by enlarging their pads year after year. Coupled with the advent of the neutral zone trap, the game came to a stalemate in terms of scoring.

    As far as my offside comment, assuming that the referees know the rules, how do they even know with accuracy if a player is offsides when there isn’t even a mark on the field? If soccer allowed “cherry picking” South America’s more talented offenses would dominate Europe. Since FIFA asskisses to the wealth of Europe, whose teams would be at a disadvantage if the game were opened up, perhaps that’s why we don’t see change. JK, probably just tradition… just musing.

    As far as being called a homophobe for using the word gay to describe a player that is being a sissy… um, this isn’t the 90s where we all tremble in fear because of political correctness, I did not mean homosexual. Therefore I was not being a homophobe. If you have a sense of humor, you can watch South Park and see the episode that addresses just this.

    Concerning hockey fights. You may want to look at Youtube for fights with Bob Probert. Then come back to me about guys wearing armor while fighting.

    • short passes says:

      Watched the Probert – Mc Sorley “fight”. You must be so proud !! What’s your alternative favorite sport, bear-baiting?? As to the actual damage inflicted, it took several minutes for them to get through the armor — and then we hear that — OMG — there was a cut inflicted !!!
      Rich if you really enjoy that then I think that soccer can survive without your support. BTW, forget bear-baiting, jousting might be more to your tastes.

    • Dave C says:

      (1) Who cares who is “toughest” out of ice-hockey players and soccer players. Are you five? If I wanted to see which sportsman was toughest, I’d watch boxing or MMA instead of football or hockey.

      (2) Oh so you mean “gay” as in “lame”, that’s ok then.

      (3) As for your “offsides” comment…first of all, we don’t need to “assume” the ref knows the offside rule. We KNOW the ref knows the offside rule, that’s why they’re a ref.
      If you know anything about the offside rule (and it is “offside” by the way, not “offsides”), then you would know that it has nothing to do with any markings on the pitch (with the obvious exception of the half-way line). I won’t go into the full details of the law (you can look it up yourself on google), but being offside is generally relative to the position of other players and the ball, nothing to do with any marking on the field. There is no way any marking on the field would help the referee “know with any accuracy that a player is offside”

      Also, the referee has two guys on the side lines (the “assistant referees” or linesmen) who’s main function is to align themselves with the last defender, and thus determine if anyone is offside. Again, no need for any “marking” on the field.

      Why you think South American teams would experience any kind of advantage from scrapping the offside rule is beyond me. If anything, scrapping the rule would lead to more long-ball football, with an emphasis on larger stronger players, rather than ball skills and neat passing. So if stereotypes hold true, the Europeans (and perhaps Africans) would probably benefit most of all.

    • sucka99 says:

      Rich, you do realize that hockey’s TV audience is much higher as a percentage in Canada than in the US? It’s their national pasttime. They may have wanted to see rules changes but they didn’t need it. We did. As you mentioned hockey expanded into non-traditional markets and those markets needed people to be excited about the product.

      Soccer is not in the same position as it’s not reliant on the event-driven US market.

      wrt offside calls, that was explained by someone else here

      wrt “gay” meaning “sissy’ – maybe for you, but the rest of us have moved on. This isn’t the 90′s – no – we’re past the 90′s so old definitions (especially in a public written forum where words are the only line of communication) leave you at risk for being called insensitive.

      see: Mel Gibson

  19. billy bremner says:

    rich,

    the flopping and embelishing of contact has become a big problem these days and that aspect of the game definitely needs to be cleaned up. the bottom line though is that athletes, in any sport, will find ways to gain an advantage, be it fair or not. Look at baseball players and their steriods or look at the NBA and how much its players have taken to flopping in recent times (i.e. vlade divac, pau gasol, all the players that run into the lane and just throw their arms up as if there has been contact…) The thing is that as an avid soccer fan, i’ve witnessed so many games where flopping hasn’t been a problem at all and where the physical side of the game is truly allowed to come out.

    And also, its wrong to lump all soccer players together as “pussies” as you call them. There are many players who do NOT play-act. Obviously you’ve never seen player like roy keane or thomas gravesen or vinnie jones etc… I doubt many hockey players would like to mix it with them.

    • thomas says:

      this is all a matter of perspective…

      anyone who has played a competitive soccer game knows there are a certain amount of bad calls, some of which the twerp on the other side got an academy award for, it comes with the territory, and is part of the game….

      from a fan’s perspective, who’s watching telemundo’s slomo replays, which are pretty cool, second-guessing the referee has become a rich source of self-righteous whining points. which actually fits into the whole whiney history of bad calls and whiners… so i see this as actually getting the fans involved in the whining that goes on all the time on the field…

  20. Rich says:

    Actually, I saw Joey Kocur break a players jaw, cheekbone, and eye orbit in one punch. Soccer players kick each other, fans riot and kill. Hockey players play through injuries all the time as well. I actually was in favor of rule enforcement that limited fights. I prefer skill play and speed. Your comments were very funny though. I don’t hate soccer, I actually played for a couple of years while concurrently playing football. Just think they should lose the conservatism and reluctance to change. Instant replay is essential to all sports. I’d rather the team I was rooting for lose, than to win via a bad call. More scoring would help the sport, it’s simply a fact.

    • sergio lima says:

      Rich, I love all sports and would watch hockey if they did not fight. I don’t understand why two collegues have to fight for thirty seconds to settle something. I know a lot of hockey fans loved, I don’t. And I love boxing and UFC and would love to see some of those giant hockey players had their ass kicked by the little Roger Mayweather or the Philipino guy. Let’s suspend soccer players for diving, that is ridiculous but let stop those stupid fight in hockey. Another thing, USA x England had more people watching than the Stanley Cup Finals. And if you give me the money one of those NHL teams have to spend in salaries and I will build you a solid american team on the MLS capable to go all the way up to the FIFA club world championship. We can’t compare the semi-amateur MLS with a solid professional NHL. And I agree with you about calling soccer players who dive whatever you want because they are a disgrace to the sport.

  21. short passes says:

    I think that it’s time that something was said in FAVOR of the divers !! However, just to avoid excessive harassment, I will declare that I’m against “diving”. My comments aren’t totally original since I heard some of them during the WC pre-game shows (can’t remember who). The argument from the “divers ” side is that they are constantly being hacked, tripped, and kicked and fouls aren’t being called so to even the scales — because they don’t trust the referees to make the calls unless something dramatic happens — they embellish. One of the more notorious divers — at least for any US players — is Blanco. When he was playing for the Fire a reporter went into the locker room to interview him. When Blanco removed his socks and shin guard the reporter was amazed — both of his legs were black and blue from knee to ankle, the result of the many fouls that were usually not called !!! My point is that the issue of diving is not as clear-cut as we all might want it to be. I have no patience with the more egregious offenders like C. Ronaldo, but there are many strikers who are subjected to constant physical attacks that not only are painful but more importantly prevent them from scoring chances. It’s therefore not too surprising when they choose to embellish once in a while. And please don’t try to make this a soccer-only issue. It happens in every contact sport where a player will “sell” a foul. Without trying to pass the blame onto the referee, he CAN eliminate the worst effects of this by carding the most obvious infractions and also by giving the strikers some protection from the more blatant attacks.

  22. Well, that’s the thing with football finals, they’re usually not that good, especially the big ones (world cup, european, champions league). both teams want to win so badly that it often gets locked down and very rough.

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