But something unique happened during the World Cup. Immigrants in the States witnessed an awakening of distant early memories, a remembering of an old love. A rekindling of the joy of the game grew within the immigrant communities and it spread like wildfire among their African American friends.
You saw it in the bars when Ghana, Nigeria, Cote D’Ivoire or Cameroon played—it was contagious and black America was infected.
“Everybody knew somebody rooting for a country. When the U.S. wasn’t playing, you rooted by association and that’s how it spread. Their country became your country, at least for an hour and a half,” says sports blogger Cedric Thornton.
He also says legendary footballer Pele‘s arrival in the U.S. to play for New York-based Cosmos was the entry point to the growth of the game.
Pele agrees. He tells the Miami Herald, “People don’t remember, when I arrived, soccer in this country was good, but mostly with children. Today, the U.S. is the same level as Europe. They almost made semifinals in the 2002 World Cup, and the base is more organized than in Brazil and maybe all of South America. I am happy because I feel I was part of it.”
Soccer is also becoming more fun to watch. The furious pace of the World Cup’s first round and the record volley of goals, is rendering the “it’s too slow” argument obsolete, especially when one compares it to watching baseball – once called America’s favorite pastime.
The American team is growing into a sum of its parts, reflecting the diversity of the country it represents. Consider the players with African origins on this squad. Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore, Julian Green, Timmy Chandler, Jermaine Jones, John Anthony Brooks, Deandre Yedlin, and Damarcus Beasley, just to name a few.
These guys are responsible for viewership of the tournament going through the roof. The USA vs Portugal game is tied for the most watched soccer game in U.S. history.
Viewership of the game has stood at 24.7 million, and that’s not even including the millions that streamed the game, or the thousands packed in bars across the country.
So what happens now that the United States and Africa are out of the tournament? It remains to be seen if viewership remains high. But black America has definitely been bitten by the soccer bug.