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.