From the Evansville Courier Press, April 10, 2011
I watched our U.S. national team take on Paraguay in an international “friendly” in Nashville last week. The U.S. lost 1-0 in a game that typifies and frustrates about the game of soccer all at the same time — it probably is the only sport where one team can dominate yet lose.
I was able to attend with two of my children (Katie, 13, and Dan, 9) as well as other players and coaches from the Evansville Soccer Club. Nothing is more special than to share a passion with your children and that was certainly the case for me and the other parents and friends who attended.
There’s now no doubt that Americans care about soccer: Sam Mamudi of MarketWatch recently reported that European club soccer is one of the fastest-growing televised sports in the U.S. Three English Premier League games have amassed more than 500,000 viewers on ESPN this season, according to Nielsen Co.
“The audience growth we’re seeing for the Premier League is right up there with our top sports,” said Scott Guglielmino, senior vice president of programming at ESPN who oversees the network’s soccer coverage.
These figures appear comparable to those for National Hockey League games or regular-season college basketball games. Unlike other mainstream U.S. sports, English games are rarely played in prime time here due to the time difference, instead appearing either early morning on weekends or mid-afternoon on weekdays.
This level of popularity was pretty evident in Nashville, as a crowd of 29,059 — the largest attendance for a soccer match in the state of Tennessee — watched a pretty entertaining game. The crowd was electric, and the kids were completely engaged. One of the best parts of the crowd was that it was predominantly American fans cheering on our team. Maybe for the first time, we have fans that have grown up playing the game in our country, and sharing it with their own children.
The U.S. team is reaping the benefits of a nucleus that had advanced to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2002 and to the round of 16 last summer.
Our young kids can now identify with U.S. standouts who now play on television every weekend in the EPL. Tim Howard is one of the top goalkeepers for his play with Everton; Clint Dempsey recently became the first American to score double-figures in the EPL after recording his 10th goal of the season for Fulham.
Landon Donovan’s performance in last summer’s World Cup has made his face one that all American sports fans can associate with, and made him the favorite among young fans.
The reference point our youngsters now have will change the way they look at the game for the rest of their lives. They have higher expectations, from the level of play on the field to the amount of passion and enthusiasm that the patriotism and play was invoked.
The goal for us as parents and coaches is to foster that level of enthusiasm by continuing to expose our kids to the highest standards of play that the game offers. Being able to share that reference point with their own friends, and encouraging others to attend the next time the US are in relative proximity to Evansville, is something that will only grow the game here in the United States.
My kids follow the EPL pretty closely (like their father), and now follow our U.S. team pretty closely, too. It is great to be able to share “the beautiful game”with my children and their friends, and there is nothing sweeter than being able to share and pass on your passion with your kids, too.