All eyes on the beautiful game

Luis Suarez handles the ball in Uruguay’s World Cup win over Ghana. (AP Photo)

I remember the game that solidified my love for soccer. Ghana and Uruguay were vying for a spot in the semifinals of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. A win for Ghana would have made them the first African team to reach the World Cup semifinals. A win for Uruguay would have been its first trip to the semifinals in 40 years. A missed penalty shot by Ghana during the last minute of extra time forced the game into a suspenseful shootout where Uruguay clinched the semifinal spot.

I also remember the moment when I realized that the love and respect for soccer that other countries had would eventually catch fire in America. Algeria and the United States were tied at zero going into extra time when Landon Donovan scored the miracle goal seen ‘round the world. It was also the goal that I believe paved the way for Americans to appreciate the game, its beauty and its internationality.

Soccer has had its spikes in popularity in America. When Brandi Chastain tore off her jersey after winning the penalty shootout against China in the 1999 World Cup, there was a pique in interest. Before that, in the 1970s, Pelé was brought to the New York Cosmos. This caused a significant increase in the amount of youth who played. But after each of these events, it seemed as though America’s interest in soccer would gradually wane.

Something was different after the United States’ amazing runs from both the women’s and men’s national teams in the most recent World Cup tournaments. The interest in soccer has not only stayed alive, but it has increased.

NBC caught on to this trend and took advantage of it when they signed a three-year deal and paid $250 million for the rights to broadcast the top-notch English Premier League games. It was considered a risky deal, but numbers show that NBC made the right move.

One of the first games aired was Chelsea v. Manchester United, and it broke records for the station. NBC Sports Network averaged 536,000 viewers for the game — its best weekday audience since the 2012 London Olympics — while viewership peaked at 682,000, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Though these ratings aren’t anywhere close to those in other countries, it does show that more and more Americans are getting interested in the sport. According to the New York Daily News, Pelé said that the sport is more popular than ever among the nation’s youth and now played at a higher level. Of course, it would be wrong not to mention the tremendous impact that the FIFA video games have had on this trend.

The excitement that I had watching all of the World Cup games has transferred over to the Premier League, largely because my brother is a huge Chelsea supporter. Because of him, I know the chants for Chelsea, Fernando Torres and Frank Lampard. I know that it is football, not soccer. It is a kit, not a uniform. It is a boot, not a cleat. And it is the pitch, not the field. I get excited when I see a game on in the dining hall. English Premier League offers some of the best soccer in the world, and Americans are lucky that NBC offers these games.

My professor asked the class the other week which of their teams were playing over the weekend. Most people said Giants and Rangers, but one person said Liverpool. This just goes to show how the game is creeping into American society.

Though soccer is not yet a mainstream sport in the United States, I think one day it will be one. With some of the world’s best players coming from the United States, such as Alex Morgan and Clint Dempsey, soccer supporters have a lot to be excited about. Also, now that NBC broadcasts the Premier League without any subscription needed like FOX had done in the past, all Americans can be witnesses to some of the best players in the world.

Soccer is not boring. It is an exciting, beautiful, international game, and the United States. is continuing to understand why the rest of the world has already been in love with the sport for so long.

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