Who says soccer’s not fun to watch? Don’t tell that to the crowd packed into Tunnicliff’s Tavern Sunday night.
I was there for the World Cup match between the USA and Portugal. A couple hundred people crowded inside and outside the popular eatery across from D.C.’s Eastern Market. They followed every play. They knew all the players. They cheered whenever we took possession. They moaned and groaned whenever Portugal advanced the ball. And they chanted ... no, they didn’t chant, they ROARED “USA, USA, USA” when the United States scored. It was one of the most exciting sports events I’ve ever seen.
And that was just one of thousands and thousands of viewing parties across the country — at bars, restaurants, parks, gyms, theaters and private homes. I saw the same enthusiasm at The Dubliner on June 13 for the match between Spain and the Netherlands, and in several sports bars in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn on June 21 for Germany vs. Ghana.
What’s going on? Is soccer finally catching on as a popular sport in the United States?
It sure looks, and sounds, like it. The U.S. team’s 2-1 win over Ghana scored the highest ratings ever for any men’s World Cup game on ESPN. And many Americans weren’t satisfied with watching on television. Americans bought four times as many World Cup tickets as residents of the U.K., where “football” is the No. 1 sport, and more Americans actually traveled to Brazil for the World Cup than fans from any other country.
Sure, it helps that this is the first World Cup in the Western Hemisphere since the Rose Bowl in 1994, and that Rio is only one hour ahead of the East Coast, so you don’t have to stay up ’til the middle of the night to watch. But that alone doesn’t explain America’s sudden fascination with soccer. You also have to factor in the steady growth and success of Major League Soccer since the 1994 games, the success of this year’s team and the fact that most young people today played soccer in grade school or high school. In fact, a recent ESPN survey of Americans ages 12 to 17 ranked soccer neck and neck with baseball in popularity.
You must admit that there’s one other important factor, too: Soccer games are so much fun to watch. They’re only 90 minutes long, and the action is nonstop: No commercial breaks, no time-outs, no repetitious blah blah blah by color commentators — just the constant motion and gifted footwork of some of the world’s best, and best-looking, athletes. It’s hard to take your eyes away. It’s intense, but it’s captivating.
No wonder Americans have such a bad case of World Cup fever. If you haven’t caught it yet, watch Thursday’s match between the USA and Germany, and you will. And don’t worry, it doesn’t mean you have to love baseball, basketball or football any less. You just have to love soccer even more. USA! USA! USA!
Press is host of “The Bill Press Show” on Free Speech TV and author of The Obama Hate Machine.