[SPORTS]:::'Sam's Army' hunt W.C. success

No. 63 Monday, March 8, 2010 
Americans for some strange reason are just falling - thank­fully - in love with the 'beautiful game'. After many premature 'affair' with the game they called soccer but known around the world as football, the United States is finally appreciating the sport for what it is, instead of trying to change it for their own profitability.

    Years of stop-starts in the inauguration of a professional football league has left the US way behind as far as established leagues go.
    Professional soccer has been less popular in the United States than most other parts of the world. Major League Soccer, the United States' professional first-division league, is not, in general, as well-attended as the major leagues of American football, baseball, or basketball, but MLS is also much younger, and has far fewer teams.
    Major League Soccer played its first season in 1996, while other major U.S. leagues have each existed since the first half of the Twentieth Century.
    Although MLS is also much younger than most other countries' first divisions, and has 15 teams in 2009, it is already the 12th most-attended premier division in the entire world. In 2006, MLS broke its all-time record for attendance at a regular-season match, which saw 92,650 spectators fill the Los Angeles Coliseum on a Sunday in August; although that claim is somewhat misattributed to the MLS game as it was one of two games played that night, the second being a match between two power-houses of the Spanish speaking world: Spain's Barcelona and Mexico's Guadalajara. On August 1, 2009, a friendly match between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Barcelona at the Rose Bowl drew a crowd of 93,137 fans. The last time a soccer match drew that many people in the United States was during the 1994 FIFA World Cup.
    Until recently, American soccer was more of a regional phenomenon than it is today. Soccer flourished in hotbeds such as New Jersey, New York, Saint Louis, the Pacific North­west, Southern California, and in areas with large immigrant populations that grew up with the game in their homelands. Nonetheless, soccer is now gradually gaining popularity all over the country, partially due to youth programs, the creation of Major League Soccer, and the recent success of the United States' men's and women's national teams.
    Interest in soccer within the United States has grown rapidly starting in the 1900s. This has been attributed to the fact that the 1994 FIFA World Cup was played in the United States, the first time the event was held in the U.S. This won the sport more attention from both the media and casual sports fans. As part of the United States' bid to host the World Cup in 1994, U.S. Soccer pledged to create a professional outdoor league for the first time since the collapse of tire NASL a decade earlier.
    That effort culminated in the launch of Major League Soccer in 1996, which helped develop American players in a way that was not possible without a domestic league. Many of these players competed in the 2002 FIFA World Cup, where the United States did surprisingly well, finishing in the quarterfinals by beating arch rivals Mexico in the Round of 16 and narrowly losing to eventual runners-up Germany in the quarter-finals.
    Sport fans in the US have come to know the likes of John Harkes, Eric Wynalda, Kasey Keller, Tab Ramos, Tim Howard, Landon Donovan and a host of others who have excelled in overseas leagues.
    Recently, the United States stun the football world when they stopped the Spain 2-0 in the Confederations Cup in South Africa. The victory evoked memories of the 1-0 beating of England in the 1950 World Cup.
    On the regional stage, the national team has also improved, with a record up to 2009 of reaching the final of the biannual CONCACAF Gold Cup eight times since 1989, winning it four times, in 1991, 2002, 2005, and 2007. As 2007 CONCACAF winners, they also progressed to the final of the 2009 edition of the FIFA Confederations Cup, narrowly losing in the final 3-2 to five times World Champions Brazil after leading 2-0 at halftime.
    South Africa 201 0 will pose a serious determining factor on the success of the game in the US, which has the potential to be the games biggest market. So, with Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore, Carlos Bocanegra, Brad Friedel, Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, Ricardo Clark, Damarcus Beasley and company, the world may witness the rise of a football power - if, just if - the US can break their world cup jinx.

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