Football, or soccer as it is known in the United States has always been somewhat of the ugly duckling of the American sporting landscape. However, the 2014 world cup has caught the imagination of the American public like never before.
A last gasp victory against Ghana in the Stars and Stripes opening game coupled with a pulsating 2-2 draw with Portugal, in which a goal in the final minute of injury time spared the Iberian sides blushes was enough to see the States progress from the group of death along with Germany.
The US then took a much fancied Belgium side to extra time in the round of 16 only to be defeated 2-1 in what has thus far proved to be one of the games of the knockout stages.
Despite the United States relatively early exit from the tournament the exciting brand of football they have played has won plaudits both home and abroad. People turned out in their thousands in Chicago, California and Texas to watch in parks, streets and stadiums. With an average of 16.5 million viewers watching on ESPN the defeat to the Red Devils was the second most viewed football game in American history (second only to the sides game against Portugal in the group stages of this tournament).
Jurgen Klinsmann's men were cheered on the whole way by that oh so American chant of "we believe that we can win". The tournament has made a national treasure out of Tim Howard who made the most saves in a world cup match (15) against Belgium, and President Barack Obama even felt it necessary to make a phone call to both Howard, and captain Clint Dempsey to congratulate the sides efforts.
But why has 2014 represented such a watermark in the popularity of American football?
One reason is perhaps the growing status of the MLS. The league is now home to internationally recognisible stars such as Thiery Henry, Jermain Defoe and Julio Cesar, and of course David Beckham was formerly of LA Galaxy. The fact that Defoe is already Toronto FC's 9th highest scorer of all time with 7 goals illustrates the leagues infancy.
At it's conception in 1996 Major League Soccer had just 9 teams, it now boasts 19 with 9 joining since 2005 alone. David Beckham's transfer to LA Galaxy in 2005 was a huge moment for football in America and his Hollywood like celebrity translated perfectly to the Los Angeles lifestyle.
Beckham stipulated in his original contract that upon leaving the Galaxy he would be able to build his own franchise and has selected Miami as his location. With brand Beckham firmly behind the development of the MLS it appears that football in the States is hear to stay. And with more than 20 million youngsters playing the soccer the next generation of American world cup heroes seems secured.
Where next for USA's new found love?
It is perhaps in the business aspect that Americas interest in football will be most important. Note the use of the term franchise rather than team.
America has always represented the last untapped goldmine on FIFA's map of global domination. When the USA hosted the 1994 world cup finals the average attendance was nearly 69,000 which is still the highest ever. However, the sport did not take off in the way FIFA expected it to after the tournament.
Now FIFA feels the time is right to try again and secretary general Jerome Valcke said this week that "there is a commitment to work with US soccer"
Speaking to Brazilian newspaper Globo he proclaimed that "after 2022 they have an interest in hosting the 2026 world cup".
After the amazing response the American public has had to the efforts of the national side in Brazil the future looks bright for the game in the US, and just imagine the scenes in the streets if they were to be awarded the tournament in 2026.
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