As Pablo Coll recalled Spain’s 2010 FIFA World Cup title, he couldn’t help but crack a smile over his home country’s first-ever victory in the tournament.
“I was back home and we won, the whole country of Spain was in the streets,” Coll, graduate student in physics, said. “People didn’t go to work the next day, it was just madness. For two or three days, it was all about soccer and celebrations and it was the first time in history for us to win so it was a really big deal for us.”
For this year’s tournament, ESPN Research estimates that numbers of U.S. viewers will surpass 18 million. The growth for soccer in the U.S. is exciting for international fans, but it still pales in comparison to what the game means to fans worldwide.
Coll, a native of the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain, started playing soccer when he was 4 years old.
“It’s hard to explain because you don’t have anything like that in the United States with any sport,” Coll said. “In places like Spain and Brazil, it’s like a religion. It’s something above everything else. It’s in the newspapers and, really, everything is about soccer. When it’s World Cup time, it’s madness. When we won last time, it’s greater than any other sport. It’s a lifestyle.”
Rene Hernandez, senior in marketing, started playing when he was 7 years old. He said he doesn’t feel like Mexico has played very well of late, and isn’t sure how to feel about their long-term success in the World Cup. No matter the result, he said feels the country’s loyalty will still stand above U.S. appreciation toward any sport.
“I think it’s bigger,” Hernandez said. “It’s a part of a culture. Here, it’s more for the sport itself and you have the people who go tailgate and stuff like that, but not everyone. Literally in Latin America, it’s everyone. You have the hooligans and even the moms like that stuff. It’s really more intense and everybody loves it.”
Junior in civil engineering Daniel Abreu said soccer finds its way into nearly every event in Brazil.
“If you’re going to celebrate something with family, you literally have a barbecue and you play soccer,” Abreu said. “Some people celebrate birthdays with soccer. It’s everywhere.”
Seeing the games played in his home country means a lot, he said.
“It’s really exciting for us,” Abreu said. “Everybody was talking about it and couldn’t believe it was going to be there. We are the best in the world in soccer and we love it. You can see from the news in Brazil that everyone at the games is having fun.”
With recent statistics reflecting soccer’s popularity in the U.S., international attention has taken a greater turn toward the game’s growth in America.
According to a survey done by the ESPN Sports Poll Annual Report in March, Major League Soccer has now become equally popular with Major League Baseball in the 12-to-17-year-old age range.
Rich Luker, who helped conduct the survey with Luker on Trends for ESPN, said he believes the numbers will lead to even greater growth for the game in the U.S.
“MLS has been around since 1996,” Luker said. “It is phenomenal that in just one generation it has gone from zero adherents to tying MLB, especially when you recognize this is the first generation to only know the United States with a professional soccer league. MLS is in their generational DNA.”
Richie Martell, an Olathe, Kansas native and K-State alum, said he feels the game is in a major growth period.
“You can tell by the fan bases who are starting to come out for MLS games,” Martell said. “I honestly think it’s going to become the biggest sport in the United States. Especially now how the NFL is going with concussions and Barack Obama mentioned how more research needs to be done into youth football and its ability to cause concussions. There’s going to be a decrease in youth football and those kids are going to switch to other sports.”
Coll said that soccer is one of the world’s universal languages, which is one of the reasons that he attributed to the world truly coming together during international events such as the World Cup.
“It’s the only sport in the whole world that everybody follows,” Coll said. “It’s the world sport everywhere but the United States. In 90 percent of the countries, professional soccer is probably the main sport. We want them in the mix because it’ll be more challenging for us and the rest of the world.”