Rand: Soccer in the U.S. is growing up right before our eyes

  • Updated: June 23, 2014 - 6:41 AM

Watching Team USA has become an event not unlike gathering to view an NFL game.

Fans in Orlando cheered for the United States during its 2-2 World Cup tie against Portugal on Sunday. This World Cup has become a spectator event for more and more people in the United States.

Photo: John Raoux • Associated Press,

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In 2006, I wrote about the World Cup and its surging popularity, as evidenced by the packed bars found while traveling in Denver during the Cup.

In 2010, there was a similar, even stronger sentiment while splitting Cup time between cities in the Midwest, including Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

This year, over the weekend, Cup talk entered the fray during a back yard party in Fargo — and it didn’t even feel odd. That was the clincher: We no longer are surprised by the Cup’s popularity, and 2014 will officially go down as the year we stop talking about the sport’s momentum in the United States and instead understand that it is very much part of the mainstream.

Colleague Patrick Reusse, not a noted soccer enthusiast, agreed to as much in a piece in this space Sunday. He attributed growth to swelling numbers of immigrants and former soccer players who are now parents — and to be sure, this has helped the beautiful game locally and nationally. But the reach should be expanded to include other influences.

Namely: 20- and 30-somethings in city cores are also a big piece of the puzzle. The same group that is driving the craft beer trend, which seems to result in a new local taproom every day — not a compliant, mind you; not even close — is making it fashionable to like soccer by being enthusiastic fans.

This is playing out at bars across the Twin Cities and the rest of the country during the World Cup, but it also is on display during average weekends during the year when the English Premier League is a mainstream topic of discussion on Twitter.

The EPL — with NBC and its sports network doing a marvelous job showing and promoting it — is the biggest factor we see in making soccer more than a once-every-four-years phenomenon.

This year’s Cup, as far as American interest goes, also has benefited from other factors.

Brazil’s time zone — two hours later than Central Time — means matches are on here during the day instead of the middle of the night, a hindrance in recent World Cups.

The U.S. is in an intriguing group and won its opener against Ghana in dramatic fashion — ensuring Sunday’s match against Portugal and Thursday’s against Germany are meaningful.

And scoring is up: through 25 matches in this Cup, there 74 goals scored. In 2010 in the same time frame, there were only 46.

Add it all up, and the biggest piece of good news is this: The “hey, people are watching soccer at a bar” local news story should be a thing of the past, as that is no more unusual now than a thirsty group of patrons gathering to watch the Vikings.

Michael Rand

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