I’m not sure if it is just an observation that I have made from being a fan of the game, but this year it feels as if FIFA and the major U.S. sports media markets are promoting the game of soccer way more than usual – and I love their strategies.
With the World Cup being held in Qatar and the U.S. sending a stronger side than usual into the mix, it feels as if this year would indeed be the right time to try to grow the game in the country.
However, the way that the U.S. team and FIFA have gone about branding the team’s games on a match-to-match basis has been a thing of beauty.
The U.S. Men’s National Team’s (USMNT) first game was against a Wales side that barely qualified for the World Cup after beating Ukraine in dramatic fashion.
Yet, the game wasn’t branded to the American audience as a typical match.
Instead, it was portrayed as a tune-up test to see how competitive the USMNT will be at this year’s international competition.
With the majority of the rest of the world considering soccer – or “futbol” – their sport of choice, the U.S. has long dealt with the common notion that we do not care about the game in favor of other sports.
Quite honestly, I can see the truth behind this ideology.
We do love our other sports, and sometimes it feels as if soccer is the one we have forgotten about, despite it being where many young athletes begin their athletic careers.
With that being said, FIFA and the USMNT played their cards perfectly by establishing almost a “villain” sense to the USMNT.
In a competition full of soccer-first countries, the USMNT may not be a true contender to win soccer's most coveted prize, but what the team does have on its side is a sense of importance to every match.
The first match – albeit a disappointing 1-1 draw with Wales – saw packed restaurants of patrons looking to watch the game and a stacked social media presence on Twitter, Instagram, and other outlets.
Fast forward four days later, and the USMNT played by far its most important match of the tournament – and likely its most important in general – against an English side that seemed to be a juggernaut heading into the contest.
It’s no secret that after events that occurred over 200 years ago that there is still some proverbial bad blood between our two sides that comes to light when our countries face off in competition.
Here is the kicker: FIFA scheduled the game the day before Thanksgiving.
Coincidence, I think not… and this game was no small game for its audience.
Having gone out for the game, I witnessed a packed downtown Minneapolis full of avid and new fans alike hoping to watch the U.S. side take down England’s super team.
Despite having witnessed an unappetizing 0-0 draw, the narrative amongst fans was this: We should have won and most certainly outplayed England.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing this I was unable to witness the team’s final group stage game against Iran, but if the team was to win, they would advance past the group stage and continue their run in the World Cup.
One thing that I can promise is this: If we move on in this competition and prove to be a dark horse, the true winners will be FIFA and the USMNT.
Look for soccer to be on the rise in the U.S. in the future.