Cup run is over, but room to grow for U.S. soccer fandom

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By Steve Smith

As is the case every four years, former Brighton and current Frederick soccer coach J Doehring parked himself in front of the set for the World Cup the past few weeks.

And while he’d love to see soccer catch on in the United States like it has overseas, he’s aware of the obstacles. One is a myriad other activities to attract kids.

“The U.S. has too many choices, but that is what makes us unique,” he said. “In almost any other country in the world, soccer is No. 1 and really the only choice for kids. In the U.S., we have many different sports kids can choose to play.”

Another reason soccer hasn’t caught on is cost.

“Kids have to pay to play every sport in the United States in an organized setting,” Doehring said. “In most other countries, soccer’s cost is minimal or subsidized by clubs or communities.

“For soccer, you don’t need much. Anything can be used for a goal — two stones or sticks, trash cans, empty soda bottles, trees. Put any of those together with a ball, and you play,” Doehring said. “Other sports require additional equipment and added cost of rental space. Soccer can be played anywhere. You don’t need a wood floor, lines or ice to skate on.”

Yet despite those obstacles, Doehring said this year’s World Cup might well help the fortunes of American soccer.

“This World Cup has helped a ton,” he said. “You aren’t seeing a lot of low-scoring games. I have talked to several people who have not particularly cared for soccer but are now interested due to the fact that goals are being scored in bunches. 

“I can sit and watch a game that ends 1-0 or even 0-0and say, ‘Wow that was a great game.’ But that’s because I see and appreciate the intricate details of the game. This is the sport I have grown up watching and playing. 

“Most individuals who have never played before say, ‘Well, no one scored. That game sucked.’ But when Germany wins 4-1 over Portugal or the Dutch put up five goals in a World Cup game, all of a sudden people are excited.”

Doehring noticed a certain amount of soccer fever during his new team’s informal kick-around sessions.

“All of the boys who show up for kick arounds are excited and talking about the games,” he said. “It has spiked an interest for now. It seems like every four years, there is a spike in interest. But how do we maintain it? If the U.S. could become a regular participant in other tournaments, like the Gold Cup, and also schedule more frequent friendly (exhibition) matches.”

Next year’s Women’s World Cup will be in Canada.

“That will give us an additional boost,” Doehring said. “The best thing that could happen is for the U.S. to get to the semifinal round at least. That means that the every day, average non-soccer player would be interested for at least two more weeks. That would create an excitement that, in four years in Russia, we could go even farther.

“We as Americans like to win and, with the possibility that we could win, the excitement will be amplified.”

Contact Steve Smith at ssmith@metrowestnewspapers.com.