Guest Post: Taking a Deep Breath After Wild WWC Ride

Today’s post comes courtesy of Neal Malone, currently the Public Relations Manager for the NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks. He has spent most of his post-college life working in sports, covering the Chicago Cubs for a Chicago-area radio station and managing his own sports blog. He also won our inaugural World Soccer Draft. 

The 2011 Women’s World Cup final generated 7,196 tweets per second. That makes it a more popular Twitter subject than the Royal Wedding and the death of the world’s most notorious terrorist. Who would have thought, right? I mean, we knew Twitter was big, that it’s proliferation was prolific, but 7,196 tps? Staggering.

The final’s impact on the Internet was just one of the ways in which the WWC surprised me. The tournament took the world by storm,  one country after another. Traditional soccer countries, particularly the ones like the hosts Germany where the women’s game has made inroads, were always going to watch and support their team, but I had doubts about the manner in which Americans would respond to the Lady Yanks trying to end a 12-year Cup drought. With a professional league annually gasping for air and the Brandi Chastain-sports bra memories fading into oblivion, the question was, “Why care now?”

But the U.S. women, accidental or not, took the excitement of sports to a whole new level. They cut it close, too close, time and time again. The loss to Sweden, the last-gasp effort against Brazil, and the seesaw battle against Japan: that’s what sports fans want, isn’t it?
We’re not interested in formalities, and certainly not blowouts. We want drama, and Wambach and Co. executed that to perfection.

Why yes we'll take any excuse to remind you of this moment.

The popularity of the tournament is all well and good, and will no doubt serve as
nothing but a positive for the women’s soccer landscape, but let’s not kid ourselves that the
tournament’s popularity will kick-start a new American soccer revolution. What gave their run the momentum to cross over into the mainstream doesn’t exist at other levels of the sport.

The U.S. Women’s National Team’s journey to the final was so dramatic it seemed ripped from the pages of a fictional sports novel. The games made you wonder whether or not anything more could ever be offered in a series of soccer games. The problem is they created a false expectation among soccer-watching newbies that all soccer matches could carry that amount of nail-biting, jump-up-and-down action.

As with the World Cup last year, the nature of the U.S.’s run struck a patriotic chord with many who tuned into the tournament. The majority of the viewers enjoyed it because of the global platform and all of the feelings that go along with the competition – most of which transcend the actual X’s and O’s of soccer.

This is all fine and dandy, but if casual soccer observers in America cared about individual skill and team strategy, they would already be all over the men’s game, especially the soccer played in the top European leagues.

The lack of American interest in high-level foreign and domestic men’s soccer is interesting because it’s all there for the taking. ESPN, Fox Soccer Channel, and GOL TV have done an incredible job of making the highest level of soccer available for regular viewing in the United States. I mean, heck, ESPN has partial TV rights to games in MLS, the English Premier League, and even La Liga, while the NHL sits and wonders Versus will ever catch on to the mainstream channel distribution.

The “others,” those outside of the small, albeit growing population of soccer fanatics
in the U.S., don’t have anything that really hits home with them. The patriotism of the World Cup doesn’t exist in club soccer. Wambachian 122nd minute miracle goals only happen once in a blue moon. When a run like the women’s national team gets picked up on by casual fans and the mainstream media, the other integral nuances of the game are often times left undiscussed and unappreciated.

Look, we’ve come a long way with our support for soccer in my lifetime – so much so that several of those rabid #WWC tweeters were friends of mine who used to crucify the sport, but we all need to take a deep breath from the madness of the last several weeks and realize the true context of the situation.

If soccer is to continue growing in the United States, it’s going to have to be based on appreciation for something deeper within the game. The incredible nature of this year’s Women’s World Cup gave people a different kind of appreciation, which is fine, but it’s not the kind of thing that is going to keep fans coming back for more.

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