The Pains of Soccer Becoming Popular

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

In a utopia where we have something we love, those who know little about soccer tend to stay away. With the USMNT’s performance the mainstream sports media is weighing their unwelcome opinions into the sport they loathe.

This has been the most exciting World Cup in my lifetime, and I think those much older than I believe that this certainly has been one of the best as well. There have been no shortage of moments that have caused my heart to stop, and I can thank the United States Men's National Team for that. In December after the World Cup draw, there seemingly was no hope for this team. We were in the "Group of Death" with one of the best teams in the world, a team with the best player in the world Cristiano Ronaldo, and a team which we just couldn't seem to beat. I say "we've" because I've never felt more a part of a team in my life. This US team has brought soccer in this country to the forefront like no other team before it, and I've been there through every qualifying game and every friendly since the heartbreaking loss to Ghana in 2010. Walking out of this World Cup with heads held high, the United States achieved so much more than I could have imagined. I'm still hurting from the loss to Belgium- a team that should be considered favorites in this tournament. Given these circumstances, this World Cup has been a fantastic success. They succeeded and they took a team with no household names (well, for most households) to within a few inches and a few minutes of the quarterfinals of a tournament where success is not personified by final standing, but by how you play in each game. It is a prestige that is only for the few, and the exclusivity of those considered successful is beyond any other international sport.

The 2014 World Cup was big in this country. Bigger than the NBA Final or World Series, and bigger than just about any other event on television. Thousands joined together and watched the games on huge TVs in parks and stadiums across the country. For the first time in a while, the USMNT was on everyone's thoughts and there was no escaping it. Even if you don't like soccer, you were talking about this World Cup.

It is wonderful to see people everywhere getting into the sport whether they were fans before or not. Even those who aren't typically fans of the sport. The World Cup is a grand stage to invite those to the realm of American soccer. This is exactly how I got into soccer. Watch a major tournament and then look around to see what else there was in the world of soccer. I found out about Philadelphia getting a team and it was love at first sight. I invite all potentially new soccer fans to join in on the wacky, sometimes weird, and almost always incredibly entertaining MLS. There’s a supporters culture here that rivals any in the world. It’s not the EPL or La Liga in terms of overall pace and quality, but it’s the closest thing you’re going to get to experience, and it’s all for the love of your team.

The ramblings of those who don't believe soccer has succeeded in 2014 is cynicism at its purest.

But there is a problem that lies in the idea of soccer gaining popularity in the United States. The price of achieving success and popularity in soccer seems to now be forced to deal with the arrogance of those with sometimes rather large soapboxes who know absolutely nothing about this sport to tell us who and what is successful. The ramblings of those who don't believe soccer has succeeded in 2014 is cynicism at its purest.

Perhaps it’s a fear of being unable to analyze something you don’t understand that causes these outbursts. These outbursts are seemingly aimed directly against any progress the soccer community makes because those in some of the most powerful positions in sports media don’t know anything about this sport. The more ground soccer gains in America, the more out of touch they become - and the more at risk they are to losing their job to someone more open minded about soccer.

If you have a soapbox upon which to speak about sports in the United States, educate yourself about a topic before you go spouting off. There are plenty of resources out there written by truly intelligent people from which you can get a thorough education on the world's most popular game. The sport will continue to grow here in the United States no matter what your opinion is. Don't try and fight the tide. Remember, it's really easy to root for a winner. It takes someone with real heart and passion to root for something they know isn't a guarantee.

To the analysts: Get to know the game. Get to know the history of the game in the United States. Support your local club. Follow it. Learn the nuances of the game, of the league, of American soccer in general. You have four years until the next World Cup. Hopefully by then you will have your soapbox, be a more educated American soccer fan, and be able to appreciate the team's successes that much more.

To the newbies: I want to be the first to welcome you with open arms. You’re stepping into a world that is exciting and will only get more exciting in the coming years. In-between the World Cup there is much soccer to absorb, almost too much. The Gold Cup, Asian Cup, Africa Cup of Nations, Copa America all in 2015. Euro 2016 and Copa Centenario (hosted in the United States) in 2016. Confederations Cup in 2017 and another Gold Cup that same year! Don’t forget about the U-20 and U-17 World Cups in 2015 and 2017 along with the Women’s World Cup (in Canada!) next year. Did I mention that in that time there will be four full seasons of EPL, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, Liga MX, and 3 and a half seasons of MLS during that time frame?

The world of soccer is an abundant one. To analysts and new fans, don’t stop paying attention because the World Cup is over for the United States. Continue to watch, learn, and love the game that has turned me into a psychopath in just a few short years.

It truly is a beautiful game.

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