World Cup leads to soccer fever

Soccer takes the United States and Lawrence High by storm

More stories from Cortlynn Stark

Nearly 16 million Americans stared at television screens across the nation June 16. The reason?

The United States Men’s National soccer team was preparing to take on Ghana, the very team that beat them in a run for the World Cup semi-finals four years earlier. At 6 p.m., the starting whistle blew and the game began.

A couple of quick passes down the left flank and the ball moved to attacking midfielder, Clint Dempsey, who cut around a Ghana defender and shot the ball neatly into the right corner. All in 30 seconds.

And America went crazy.

Senior and varsity soccer player Ellis Springe was out with friends at a restaurant when the fifth-fastest goal in soccer history was scored.

“We all ran out of the bar, ran around the cars three times and ran back in,” Springe said.

The U.S. beat Ghana 2-1 in a drama-filled game with the game-winning goal scored by John Brooks, assisted by a corner taken by Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi.

The next tension-filled game took place against Portugal, led by three-time winner of the Golden Boot, Cristiano Ronaldo. And this time, 24.7 million Americans watched, making this game the most-watched World Cup game by Americans ever. This tops the 22.4 million Americans who watched the last game of the NBA finals.

“I think just because it’s on such a worldwide level, people nationalize it,” Springe said. “And they like America so they watch it more.”

Clearly, soccer is growing.

But in order for the national team to have success, they must have a good base. This base is the ever-thriving Major League of Soccer, or MLS, of which Sporting KC is reigning champion.

The women’s national team is growing as well. And FCKC, the local professional women’s soccer team based in Kansas City, won its league championship as well.

Soccer is also flourishing on an even more local level at LHS.

“We had 80 to 90 people come to tryouts,” sophomore junior varsity player Michael Braman said. “And that’s crazy.”

Generally speaking, most high school teams limit their roster to 19 players, maybe 20. At LHS, the boys soccer program has three teams. That adds up to 57 players with a maximum of 60.

“We had to make cuts for the past two years,” Springe said. “And in previous years that hasn’t happened.”

Even more people came to the varsity soccer home opener against Manhattan. And the student section was packed. If high school soccer games actually gave out tickets and sold out, this one most certainly would have.

Soccer is the most universally-played sport. Many children start playing soccer at a young age, even if they only play for a year or two because their parents signed them up. But not all parents sign their kids up to play soccer.

“When I was a kid a lot of my friends just didn’t like soccer, so I was kind of the only person,” Braman said. “Now they’re all getting into it.”

Because of the World Cup, awareness and importance of soccer are steadily increasing in the U.S. Once, the only sports any Americans paid any attention to were baseball, football and basketball. Now, soccer is in the same league.

“People are actually realizing that it’s a sport, and it’s actually likeable,” junior Matea Kaleikini said. “Unless you’re a girl and you just like it because of the cute guys.”

While that is not always the case, (plenty of girls do, in fact, like soccer because it is soccer), the sport itself is nevertheless reaching a wider audience. Perhaps someday, soccer will become the next baseball of America.

“I share that passion with a bunch of people,” Braman said about soccer. “And I can relate to a bunch more people now.”