There were three predictions that stand out from my days in junior high school back in the 1970s:
1. The metric system will be used throughout United States by my adulthood.
2. "Global Cooling" will wipe us all out by the 1990s.
3. Soccer is the sporting wave of the future.
Folks across the United States are still counting pounds, running the 100-yard dash and driving 85 MPH on I-95 when there are no Staties around, at least in marked cars.
No one talks about "Global Cooling" anymore.
Soccer hasn't quite conquered the American sporting universe.
But the numbers are slowly trending in its direction.
The 2014 World Cup has been cast by many as a soccer firewall in the United States. Many of soccer's most ardent supporters believe this tournament might finally push futbol into the American mainstream of sport. It would land alongside the NFL, NBA, major-league baseball and, in certain parts of the country, the NHL and college football.
In many locales across the U.S., professional soccer has already gone mainstream. The MLS franchises in Seattle, Portland and Houston sell out custom-made stadiums and have captured the sporting soul of their cities. The MLS is also expanding, something major-league baseball, the NHL or NBA probably won't be doing for the foreseeable future. The Orlando City Lions begin play next season and plans for a brand new $110 million downtown stadium were unveiled this week. A David Beckham-backed stadium was killed in Miami, but that was mainly because local officials did not like the location of the proposed venue.
My generation played soccer on a regular basis during school PE classes, so that in and of itself is nothing new.
Multiple generations have played the sport on an organized level as children and high-schoolers.
The New York Cosmos and Pele packed 77,691 in the Meadowlands in 1977, just before he retired from the North American Soccer League. Even more hard to believe, the Kraft Family has owned the New England Revolution for 18 years. Jonathan Kraft was on 98.5 The Sports Hub's "Felger and Mazz" Thursday renewing his pitch for a soccer-only stadium in Boston.
Kraft should be buoyed by the fact that Boston scored a 5.0 rating for ESPN's telecast of the Brazil-Croatia opener that began at 4 p.m. Thursday. That was the second-highest in the nation behind Washington. Hartford and Providence were sixth and seventh nationally. Soccer enjoys brief surges of mass interest around the World Cup, and even the Olympics.
Starting with those PE classes back in elementary school during the Nixon and Ford Administrations, soccer was shoved upon my generation. We were lectured by anyone associated with soccer that we had to like it. If we didn't like it, we were closed-minded, xenophobic America-Firsters who refused to acknowledge the rest of the world.
Millennials, and those who came after them, have taken to soccer much better than their parents or older siblings. Perhaps that is because they have not been harangued about it. In the most-recent ESPN Sports Poll, the MLS has caught up with Major League Baseball among avid fans ages 12-to-17 years old. Both scored 18 percent. For many teens, soccer has become as American as baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet. Manchester United, Liverpool FC and other foreign pro jerseys are also common-place in many schools.
That ESPN poll tracks 1,500 Americans per month, It also determined soccer was America's second-most popular sport for those aged 12-24, ahead of the NBA, MLB and college football. Naturally, the NFL crushed it with 39 percent in the same group.
ESPN has a contract to broadcast MLS games and will be airing all the World Cup games in partnership with Univision. Team USA makes its debut Monday at 6 p.m. against Ghana in the so-called "Group of Death."
Socially, the interest in the World Cup appears to be highest among young people as well. In the United States, a study by MTV [Yes, I know] found half of those aged 14-24 surveyed agreed that millennials are more engaged in the World Cup than older Americans. Of course, in the same survey, 43 percent believe 250-1 longshot Team USA will win the tournament.
Teen Mom Farrah has yet to weigh in on the subject.
Soccer's most fervent proselytizers are awaiting a soccer-awakening moment on par with the 1958 NFL championship game between the Giants and Colts, the 1975 World Series, or Magic and Bird meeting for the first time in the NBA Finals. They aren't going to get that moment in this World Cup. And that's the best soccer has to offer. Nor will they get it from the MLS. The Premier League and the UEFA Champions League tournament provide a much-higher caliber of play than anything the MLS offers, but they involve teams not in the United States.
Soccer's progression in the United States is undeniable. But it is slow and steady. Plodding over decades. Increasing one youth player at a time. Even with expansion and a continued presence on ESPN, the MLS remains regional and an after-thought for most. It's going to take a long time for all of us baseball fans over 40 to die off. Soccer's best hope in the United States in the next 10 years or so is to become on a par with NHL - a regional powerhouse where its teams are the most popular. Good luck matching the thrill of Friday night's double-OT thriller in L.A.
That reality remains whether you love soccer or are sick of being bashed for hating it. Sports should come to us naturally. Being force-fed, or being lectured about how we have to love it won't make anyone like it. My feelings about soccer are incredibly ambivalent. There is no obligation to promote it. But it's foolhardy to pretend it doesn't exist.
Soccer fans will never convince someone to love their sport, no matter how much they yell. The sport has to sell itself. It has come to young people like nearly everything else, through an effective on-line, digital presence, and savvy social media usage by stars like Cristiano Ronaldo. He has more than 26,8 million Twitter followers and 85 million likes on his Facebook page.
The lure of soccer in comparison to baseball begins and ends with the fact that soccer games consist of two 45-minute halves with a short intermission and a few minutes of stoppage time. Baseball games in Boston usually begin sometime around 7:10 p.m. and end anytime between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., depending on who is pitching and how many replays are needed. In a world of 140-character Tweets, Snapchat and Vine, any sport that thinks a 25-second delay between pitches is OK will not be long for the world of our youth.
Your typical 1-0 soccer game may not have a lot of action, but play never really stops.
The 2014 World Cup won't do much to boost soccer over the long-term in the United States. But it will be another important kilometer-marker on the sport's long road to assimilation into America's major sporting culture.
Someday, given the numbers and demographics, major-league professional soccer will a true national, American sport. The weight in kilograms is overwhelming.
That's if "Global Cooling" doesn't wipe us out first.
The OBF column is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Hit him up on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or at his
Obnoxious Boston Fan Email Address. Thanks always for reading and pass the clicker.
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