The 2014 World Cup is already the biggest ever in the United States

Timing is everything. So is luck.

When Landon Donovan scored the biggest goal in American history against Algeria, it took place on a Wednesday afternoon around noon on the East Coast. It was a monumental moment for U.S. Soccer but it ended up being a brief, fleeting moment of greatness.

clint dempsey ghanaIt is always the game after that receives the tremendous boost in interest. Think back to the 2011 World Series when Game 6 between the Rangers and the Cardinals was one of the greatest baseball games ever played, which led to Game 7 drawing 25 million and becoming the most-watched Friday night in the history of Fox.

Following Donovan’s goal in 2010, the knockout round game against Ghana drew an astounding 15 million viewers to ABC on a perfect Saturday afternoon timeslot. I was in Atlantic City for a friend’s bachelor party and the Boardwalk shut down for those few hours.

Alas, the USA lost. I remember trying to imagine what would happen if the USA would have won. How big could the World Cup become in the United States?

As of Monday night, I think I may find my answer.

While that Landon Donovan’s goal came in a game that kicked off at 10 a.m., Monday’s game against Ghana started at 6 p.m. It may have been an even better timeslot that a traditional primetime slot at 8 p.m.

My travel home on the Metro included an insane number of US Soccer fans, wearing jerseys or, in one unfortunate case, a bodysuit, going to their bar of choice to watch the game. Across Washington, D.C. – and I’m going to assume, across the country – bars were packed to the gills with fans ready to drink beer and watch the World Cup.

It doesn’t matter, right now, if these people truly like soccer or they just enjoy the jingoistic spectacle of the World Cup. It seems to be a rite of passage every four years to postulate and pontificate on whether the interest will carry over to MLS and soccer in general. We can figure that out later.

For now, the United States has caught soccer fever because of circumstance and happenstance. The timing of kickoff along with the timing of John Brooks' goal has sent the World Cup into the stratosphere in this country and there is no telling where it stops.

When Jürgen Klinsmann left Donovan off of the World Cup roster, I thought he needlessly turned the pressure way up on the squad. I still stand by that but it also did something else – it ratcheted up the interest in this year’s World Cup team by an order of magnitude.

Flashback to the previous World Cups and while there was interest, there was no mainstream, Nightly News-type of buzz. The 2010 World Cup was a big deal. The omission of Landon Donovan turned the 2014 World Cup into a front page “everyone is talking” type of traffic-stopping, Twitter-destroying deal.

The omission was similar to Donovan’s goal four years ago in that it brought the event to the minds of the casual, mainstream fans that need a hook to get interested. Instead of them jumping in after Monday’s game, they had already jumped in. That’s why the overnight rating from Ghana/USA Monday surpassed Spurs/Heat from Sunday night.

john brooks ghana
Just because there was a massive audience tuned in didn’t make this the biggest World Cup ever in this country – it was what they saw. The soccer Gods are trying to convince Americans the sport can be thrilling by providing the best possible games they can.

Ghana/USA Monday night was an amazing game. It had everything. A quick goal. Injuries. Blood. A broken nose. Tempers flaring. Relentless pressure from Ghana. Spectacular saves from Tim Howard. A true Golazo from Ghana. A moment for the ages to win the game.

If you were to script a game to convince a casual fan to watch soccer, this was the one. People tend to forget that the Algeria/USA game from 2010 was a dreadfully dull bore for most of it because Algeria parked the bus and played for a tie even though they had a chance to advance with a win. The Algerians put forth a display of the worst aspect of soccer.

That wasn’t evident Monday night. A soccer game always goes up a notch after the first goal. With a goal coming in the first 30 seconds, it meant American fans were treated to the best of the sport for two straight hours.

The beauty of everything that happened Monday night is that the party is just getting started. The next game against Portugal will almost undoubtedly be the most watched in American history, with a 6 p.m. Sunday kickoff against a team led by Cristiano Ronaldo, only one of the most recognized athletes in the world.

Four years ago, I wondered how big the World Cup could become in this country.

Even my wildest dreams could not foresee what is about to happen over the next week…or two…or three…

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  1. So true! Could they do 20 million viewers on Sunday? 25? It's going to be crazy.

  2. Good stuff... I had no idea that the World Cup ratings were surpassing the NBA finals. On the other hand, the NBA finals were are bit boring with Miami fizzling out gracelessly. We also may be confronting observation bias - bars in east and left coast cities may be occasioned by US soccer fans, but sports fans in middle america? I don't think you see MLS or international soccer really take off in the US until fans in [american] football-only states start watching.

    On the other hand, US-hosted World Cup is still holds records for highest attendance and it seems as if USA has brought the most fans to Brazil. It'll be interesting to see momentum building up to the US hosting again [in 2026?].


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