What an epic game between the U.S. and Belgium.
The favorites dominated early and often. The American goalkeeper, Tim Howard, was absolutely massive making the most saves of any goalkeeper in a World Cup match in recorded history with 16. Against all odds, the U.S. had a chance to win the game late in regulation. After going down two goals in extra time, the 19-year-old phenom, Julian Green, was substituted on. With his first touch of the game, he scored for the Americans giving us a chance with 13 minutes to play. The U.S. created two more great opportunities in the dying minutes, but ultimately came up short.
The heroics of Tim Howard and the U.S. defense during the match gave us a chance to write a fairy tale ending to the game. We didn't take that opportunity. A victory on that stage would have propelled soccer in the U.S. to a level of visibility never reached in this country. All eyes would have been on the men's soccer team for at least another four days, as we prepared to take on perennial world power Argentina and Leonel Messi. Unfortunately, it is not to be.
So where does this leave soccer in the U.S.? TV ratings for this World Cup are at an all-time high. Some statistics indicate that the surge from the 2010 World Cup to the 2014 installment marks a 50 percent increase in viewership. Ratings for the U.S. team games went through the roof not just in the U.S. but in places like Germany, England and Japan. There were viewing parties popping up all over the country at breweries, libraries, baseball stadiums, football stadiums and parks. Over 25,000 people gathered in Grant Park in Chicago to watch the most recent match. We have never seen this much attention paid to the sport of soccer.
Part of the explanation comes from a young demographic that grew up with soccer. They are now becoming young adults and consumers. 14 percent of people between the ages of 12 and 24 consider soccer their favorite sport, second only to football. Over 3,000,000 kids play soccer every year. 40 percent of World Cup viewers are 34 or younger. In contrast, the average age of a person that watches Major League Baseball is 54. The folks that are watching soccer are young and will be around for a while. Major League Soccer's average attendance for games is higher than that of the NHL and the NBA. MLS outdraws Major League Baseball in five of its 19 cities. MLS is also adding teams in New York, Atlanta, Orlando and Miami. Soccer certainly has a bright future and should continue to grow.
In future World Cups, we will need players like Tim Howard to come up with massive games that capture our imagination and personify everything that the United States is about. We like our teams to be gritty and tough. We don't take no for an answer. Punch us in the mouth and we will hop back up looking for more. We are brave, we take risks, we are proud and our spirit will never be broken. In future World Cups, we will also need players that can create something out of nothing. We will need imagination, inventiveness and ingenuity. We will need players that can finish when the game is on the line. We lacked these qualities at times during the 2014 World Cup. If we can develop some of these attributes over the next four years, pair them with our hardworking and physical style and put them on display in the 2018 World Cup, there is no telling what level of popularity the sport of soccer may reach in the United States.