Three years ago I was no fan of soccer; now I can't get enough.
Nine years ago, when discussing destinations for our honeymoon, my husband Gary wanted to celebrate our marriage with a trip to the 2006 men’s World Cup in Germany. I had zero interest in soccer, so I was secretly rooting for our back-up plan: 11 romantic days in Kauai with beaches, sunsets and, well, other honeymoon activities. Luckily for me, the tickets sold out, so I got my wish without having to be the one to squash his World Cup dreams.
At the time, I thought soccer was boring. In fact, I thought watching any sport was dull. I grew up playing volleyball, softball and basketball, and had never transitioned from player to spectator. After all, why watch someone kick something when I can kick it myself?
It took about 10 years but finally, during the 2014 men’s World Cup , I got the bug. Something shifted inside me and watching international soccer went from tedious to addictive. I cheered for the USA, felt devastated when Chile lost in penalty kicks, cringed when Brazil lost 7-1 against Germany, and knew the players' names by heart, spouting off trivia to the less-knowledgeable fans at our local sports bar. I even started attending Thorns and Timbers games in Portland, Oregon.
I am the converted and I’m not alone. America is steadily starting to understand what the rest of the world has known for years — that soccer is an incredible sport, and that even a 0-0 match can be riveting if it’s a good game.
Last year the men’s World Cup final between Germany and Argentina gave ESPN its most-viewed and highest-rated game ever. That turned out to be just the beginning. Think crowds only get excited about the men? On Sunday, when the American women went on to win their third World Cup, the ratings spiked again, breaking all records. About 25.4 million people in the USA tuned in to watch the women’s national team trounce Japan in a 5-2 victory. That made it the most-watched soccer game in U.S. history for a men’s or women’s game. To put that number in perspective, the NBA finals only brought in 19.9 million viewers.
I, however, didn’t contribute to the television ratings. Instead, after securing our golden tickets back in January, we drove the 5 1/2 hours north, crossed the border into Vancouver and sat in the stands cheering on Lloyd, Holiday, Wambach, Rapinoe, Morgan, Solo and all the players as they showed the world exactly what they can do. Along with the millions of people who watched, I jumped for joy as Lloyd knocked back one after another, securing a hat trick that would all but guarantee a win in the first half.
Four years ago I sat on a couch, bored, as the USA took on Japan. This year, I shouted, “I believe that we will win” 30 feet from the field.
And win we did.
Soccer is still young in the U.S. The MLS was only founded in 1993 as a part of the USA’s bid to host the 1994 World Cup. The first season took place with 10 teams in 1996. The women’s national league began in 2013. Considering FIFA was founded in 1904, and that the first men’s World Cup started in 1930 and the first women’s in 1991, I’d say the USA is doing a pretty good job catching up. And so are the fans.
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