With football and basketball in the offseason, the dog days of summer are in full swing for American sports.
While fans across America annually count down the days until football season returns, this year sports fans pass the time watching the World Cup.
The world’s biggest sporting event, taking place every four years in alternating locations, features 32 of the top national soccer teams on their respective pursuits to win the trophy and claim global glory.
Soccer is not as highly regarded in America as in other countries, but it is gradually earning respect thanks to the U.S. men’s national team.
Out of the 20 World Cups, the U.S. men have qualified for only 10. Their best result was third place during the first ever tournament in 1930 in Uruguay.
They only advanced to the quarterfinals once in their next nine trips, in 2002. After failing to get out of group stage in 2006, the American men have reached the knockout stage in two consecutive World Cups for the first time ever.
This year, according to many critics, the team’s success has been a surprise.
The team’s group stage opponents included three-time World Cup champion Germany, Portugal – with arguably the world’s best player in Cristiano Ronaldo – and Ghana, the country that eliminated the U.S. in the previous two tournaments.
The Americans opened the Cup by getting revenge on the Ghanaians in a 2-1 thriller. They would then battle Portugal to a 2-2 draw. Although they lost to Germany, the U.S. finished with a 1-1-1 record to survive the worldly deemed “Group of Death.”
The men went into their Round of 16 matchup with Belgium on Tuesday with tons of momentum and support. The U.S. squad’s success has generated record-breaking ratings thus far. The 25 million viewers for the Belgium contest is not only the most-watched non-football sporting event of 2014, but it is also the highest-rated game in U.S. soccer history.
Whatever place the Americans finish, their exciting efforts will be appreciated by the fans. The question moving forward is how will the American men’s results this year affect the American women?
Since 1991, the FIFA Women’s World Cup has been held the year following the men’s. Unlike the men, the U.S. women’s national team is a perennial soccer powerhouse.
The women are tied for the most World Cup championships with two (1991, 1999). They placed runner-up in 2011 and also have three third-place finishes (1995, 2003, and 2007). Despite their on-field success, the women haven’t garnered the off-field recognition.
The unfortunate reality of women’s athletics in general is that they lack the popularity of men’s athletics. Many people suggest that lack of competition, physicality and female viewership causes this discrepancy.
What makes matters more arduous is that soccer plays a background role to the four major sports in America. Hopefully, enough notoriety from this year can be passed on to the women next summer.
After losing to Japan in the 2011 World Cup final, the U.S. women got their payback by defeating the Japanese in the Gold Medal match at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
This was the fourth time the women brought home the gold in the summer games, thanks to two key players: forward Abby Wambach and goalkeeper Hope Solo.
In 2011, Wambach became the first soccer player ever — man or woman — to be awarded the AP Athlete of the Year. She was also awarded the 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year, becoming the first American woman to earn the award in a decade.
In May, Wambach passed fellow American Mia Hamm as the all-time goal-scoring leader in women’s International competition.
Solo received the Golden Glove award for best goalkeeper during the World Cup, and she has continued to be one of the top goalkeepers in the world.
With the mixture of these two veterans and young talents like Alex Morgan, the U.S. women look to be a force in global competion once again.
Will is 20-year-old communication studies junior from Birmingham, Ala.