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Friday, July 11, 2014 - 8:40am

For Many Americans, Soccer Fever Won’t End After The World Cup

Record-breaking audiences experienced this World Cup with 16 million tuning in to see the U.S. play Ghana and another 25 million watching the US-Portugal draw. The numbers are even more significant when you realize that both U.S. games drew larger audiences than last year’s World Series or the recent NBA finals, which each had about 15 million viewers.

Atlanta is one city that is welcoming the growth of soccer.

A new Major League Soccer team owned by Home Depot co-founder and Falcons owner Arthur Blank is expected to hit the pitch in 2017. A June panel on GPB’s “On the Story” that included AJC sports reporter Doug Roberson and Neil Malone, Director of Public Relations and Marketing for the Atlanta Silverbacks soccer club discussed what such a move means for the sport.

When asked about the growing popularity of soccer, Malone explained that the changing attitude toward soccer in the U.S. is generational, especially with the rise in youth soccer leagues.

“You are finally starting to see those parents who grew up playing the game now raising their kids and putting their kids through soccer.”

And as soccer gets more popular with each generation, Roberson says more young athletes will train for the professional track, choosing soccer over other sports.

“As they become teenagers and as they see they can make a living in this and they can be on television and get Gatorade endorsement contracts and Nike shoes and things, I think it will start to pull some of them away,” said Roberson. “I think you’re starting to see that now.”

Roberson’s words challenge the notion John Oliver raised on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight” that for Americans, soccer is just “something that you pick your 10-year old daughter up from.”

And the city of Atlanta can further dispute that claim as soccer fans gear up for the 2017 MLS season.

“The team in Atlanta already has more than 11,400 pledges for season tickets for a team that’s not going to start for another three years.”

So, say what you will about Americans and soccer, but one fact has become apparent: America has a fever and the only prescription is more soccer.