LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Every four years, soccer experiences a surge in popularity in the United States thanks to increased interest in the World Cup. Could this be the time that it finally sticks? Maybe, maybe not, although the signs are there that Americans are watching.
Sunday's game between the Team USA and Portugal had more than 24 million viewers. That's more, FIFA's director of television says, than the five game average of the NBA finals.
Even more encouraging for soccer fans is what a local club is seeing with the kids who play there. They may be far from Brazil and the World Cup both in distance and skill, but the kids attending this week's Mockingbird Valley Soccer Club youth camp are part of a trend that has soccer fans cheering.
"It's really taken off," said Frank Peabody, executive director of MVSC, of soccer in the Louisville area. "We've seen that this is emerging in the last couple years as it is."
Peabody has seen it before: enthusiasm for soccer during the World Cup that wanes when the tournament is over. This time, he thinks, could be different because what he says happened before the cup even started.
"A trend of a lot more players playing, starting at younger and younger ages," Peabody said. "Our recreational side here at Mockingbird, we start players at 18 months old."
In addition to tiny tot soccer, Peabody says their enrollment levels for all ages are on the rise and more kids are sticking with the sport longer.
"We've also got a high rate of retention where we're typically able to carry two teams at least in each age group."
Peabody hopes that will carry over to their parents and other adults, some of whom were watching Thursday as the KFC Yum! Center showed its first ever sporting event on the plaza. A couple hundred people spent their lunch time there.
Peabody hopes for even more rowdy crowds if the U.S. can advance far into the Round of 16.
"I think you'll see people's pride go through the roof and I think you'll see a lot more U.S. jerseys being worn and I think it will be more than for just six months or a year," Peabody said.
If you need evidence of soccer's growing prominence, you don't need to look much further than I-65 near the University of Louisville. Construction is entering the home stretch on a new soccer stadium that the Cards say will be the premiere soccer stadium in the country.
Kenny Klein, UofL senior associate athletic director for media relations, said the stadium, which will seat 5,300, is scheduled to be finished in mid to late August. That's just in time for the men and women's team to open their season in the new stadium on August 29.
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