Soccer Is Here And It's Bigger Than You Think

Soccer Is Here And It's Bigger Than You Think

Before we know it, we’ll be a soccer power to be reckoned with.
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On December 6th 2013, the United States Men’s National Team was dealt a hand no one thought they would get out of. At the group drawing for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, the United States was drawn into Group G, or, as it was infamously known to the media, "The Group of Death." Suddenly the optimism many Americans had about the upcoming World Cup was dashed away in a fiery pit of despair and sadness. 32 teams qualify for the World Cup, they are then randomly drawn into eight groups with four teams in each group. The United States were ranked 13th in the world (although that was pretty forgiving because they had beaten a lot of easy teams to get there). The other three teams drawn into Group G were Ghana (ranked 23rd, though they were still a team to be reckoned with), Portugal (ranked 5th, with the soccer giant Cristiano Ronaldo) and Germany (ranked 2nd, and would go onto win the whole tournament). Only two teams from each group advance to the next round of the tournament. Many had expected Germany to be in the final, and that Portugal would easily sail their way past the United States and Ghana to take the other advancing spot. So the United States were not expected to advance out of the Group G, easily the hardest group in the tournament, and many didn’t see them winning any games at all. Boy did all of that change.

On June 16th 2014, the United States faced their first test in Ghana. To everyone’s surprise, Clint Dempsey would score in the first 30 seconds and put the United States ahead. With five minutes left to go in the game they found themselves tied 1-1 and with a corner kick. John Brooks would head in the go-ahead goal to win the game for the US, an amazing start for the squad. Next they faced Portugal, an extremely riveting game that the US should have won had they not given up a last second goal right before the final whistle. Still, a 2-2 draw with the 5th ranked nation in the world is pretty spectacular. The US would then go on to lose a pretty meaningless match to Germany 1-0 because they had already basically clinched a spot to advance. In the next match, which was a knockout game, the US was matched up with a perfectly beatable Belgium squad. It was an intense match, and while the US could have emerged the victors, their story came to an end as they lost 2-1 in extra time. They had a chance to win with Chris Wondolowski missing a wide open shot right in front of goal, but it was not to be, and the US were knocked out of the tournament.

The United States made it farther than anyone thought, and could’ve gone even farther. Did they play technically sound soccer? No. But at the time, it didn’t really matter. They found a way to score and it captured the entire nation. Just watch this video of bars and watch parties filled with thousands of people watching the US play. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0t1wlBS08Q). Not only had they proven themselves to the world, but more importantly, they proved themselves to their own country. The soccer environment in America has been a grim one up until a few years ago. Football, basketball, andbBaseball dominate the market, especially the TV market. However, soccer is on the rise and I think since the World Cup it is rapidly expanding and growing at the professional level like never before.

Back to that video I linked to earlier. See how many people in those videos just casually wearing office clothes or weekend clothes? Exactly. I bet most of those people had probably never watched a soccer game in their life, but they were swept up in all the drama and suspense of the World Cup and they couldn’t help but join in on all the fun. And, as Americans, we love being patriotic. We love wearing that red white and blue and bearing the stars and stripes whenever we can and any opportunity to rally behind the flag we gobble up. People look at the TV and see USA on the scoreboard and they can’t help but root for them. It doesn’t matter what it is, whether it’s hockey, the Olympics, the World Cup, anything. So they watch the US do pretty well in the World Cup, and suddenly they start watching other games that we have here in the US. And our domestic leagues are expanding at a rate no one saw coming.

In you’re unfamiliar, we have three main leagues here in the United States. The MLS (Major League Soccer,) the premier league here in the states, followed by the NASL (North American Soccer League), which is sort of like the minor league, and finally the USL (United Soccer League) which is the third tier of American league soccer. All three have been expanding at a rapid rate when it comes to talent, TV ratings, and league sizes.

Back in 1996 when the MLS started play, they only had ten teams. Now they have 20, with four more being added in the next two to four years. The USL started with 15 teams, and will have 32 by 2018. That’s over a 50% increase for both leagues in just 20 years of play. For attendance MLS games have increased 40% in ten years. In 2006 the league was averaging around 15,000 fans per-game. This season they’ve averaged just over 21,000 fans per-game, and they’re growing more and more every season. For the USL they just started a brand new team here in Cincinnati and they blew up the USL attendance records in just their first season. FC Cincinnati had an average of over 17,000 fans per game and set records for most attendance at an Ohio soccer game, as well as a USL game. As for TV ratings, the MLS has made some blockbuster deals with both ESPN and Fox Sports to televise more games than ever before. Just between this season and last, ESPN games have gotten a 25% increase in viewership while Fox Sports games have gotten a 37% increase in viewership, with an average of 276,000 watching each MLS game. So by all of those metrics, soccer has been growing rapidly. Ten years ago these stats would not be very convincing.

But what makes these numbers matter is the quality and talent of play on the field and that has exponentially gotten better since the inception of the league. Since David Beckham came to the league in 2007, more and more talent has been coming from across the globe and developing here in the states. Names like Robbie Keane, Sebastien Giovinco, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, David Villa, Kaka, and Giovani Dos Santos are just a few to name that have brought a lot of talent and views to the MLS. And the US has produced solid players like Gyasi Zardes, Julian Green, Jordan Morris, and Matt Miazga to name a few. In a world where the best players are going to England, Germany, Mexico, and Spain, quality players beginning to find their way to the United States will raise the league’s quality of play and bring more and more big name players and more and more TV views as a result.

So while there is still plenty of room to expand and improve, the US is on a good road going forward. The next major milestone will be the 2018 World Cup in Russia. If the United States could make it to the final eight, or even the semi-finals, it would do so much for this country and our soccer program. And h.

Cover Image Credit: SI.com

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3 Reasons Why Step Dads Are Super Dads

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I often hear a lot of people complaining about their step-parents and wondering why they think that they have any authority over them. Although I know that everyone has different situations, I will be the first to admit that I am beyond blessed to have a step dad. Yep, I said it. My life wouldn't be the same that it is not without him in it. Let me tell you why I think step dads are the greatest things since sliced bread.

1. They will do anything for you, literally.

My stepdad has done any and every thing for me. From when I was little until now. He was and still is my go-to. If I was hungry, he would get me food. If something was broken, he would fix it. If I wanted something, he would normally always find a way to get it. He didn't spoil me (just sometimes), but he would make sure that I was always taken care of.

SEE ALSO: The Thank You That Step-Parents Deserve

2. Life lessons.

Yup, the tough one. My stepdad has taught me things that I would have never figured out on my own. He has stood beside me through every mistake. He has been there to pick me up when I am down. My stepdad is like the book of knowledge: crazy hormonal teenage edition. Boy problems? He would probably make me feel better. He just always seemed to know what to say. I think that the most important lesson that I have learned from my stepdad is: to never give up. My stepdad has been through three cycles of leukemia. He is now in remission, yay!! But, I never heard him complain. I never heard him worry and I never saw him feeling sorry for himself. Through you, I found strength.

3. He loved me as his own.

The big one, the one that may seem impossible to some step parents. My stepdad is not actually my stepdad, but rather my dad. I will never have enough words to explain how grateful I am for this man, which is why I am attempting to write this right now. It takes a special kind of human to love another as if they are their own. There had never been times where I didn't think that my dad wouldn't be there for me. It was like I always knew he would be. He introduces me as his daughter, and he is my dad. I wouldn't have it any other way. You were able to show me what family is.

So, dad... thanks. Thanks for being you. Thanks for being awesome. Thanks for being strong. Thanks for loving me. Thanks for loving my mom. Thanks for giving me a wonderful little sister. Thanks for being someone that I can count on. Thanks for being my dad.

I love you!

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Every Question You Have About The Stanley Cup Playoffs, Answered

The Stanley Cup is upon us and there are a few things you should know if you're tuning in for the first time.

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April is such a crazy time this year in the entertainment arena. With "March Madness" coming to a close, the Stanly Cup Playoffs beginning April 9th, "Game of Thrones" premiering its final season on Sunday, April 14th and "Avengers: End Game" premiering Friday, April 26, things are going to be insane all month long.

To kick things off, hockey fans everywhere are preparing for the Stanley Cup. Here are a few tips if you have no idea what the Stanley Cup is to make you look like you know exactly what you are talking about (even if you don't know anything about hockey in the first place).

1. What even is hockey, anyways?

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Hockey is a sport that is played against two teams on the ice. The players wear skates, use ice hockey sticks and play with a rubber disc called a puck. The objective of the game is to score on the opponent's goal. The game itself can be very fast paced, physical and it's very popular in the United States, Canada, Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.

2. Why do people care about the NHL?

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It is widely thought that the NHL (in North America) is the most admired hockey league in the world. As of right now, there are currently 31 teams in the NHL both from the U.S. and Canada.

3. What is the Stanley Cup?

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The Stanley Cup is named after Lord Stanley of Preston who was the 1892 Governor General of Canada. The shiny silver cup was purchased by him in London and he then donated it to award the top amateur hockey club located in Canada. The first winner of the Stanley Cup in 1893, was the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association (or MAAA). The cup has an escort (currently Philip Pritchard), who always accompanies it. The poor cup has seen its fair share of horror, including being urinated in by the New York Rangers.

4. So how do the Stanley Cup Playoffs work?

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Well, the Stanley Cup Playoffs usually begin the first few weeks of April and can go into the first week of June (depending on how fast each team makes it thru the four rounds of best-of-seven series.) There are eight teams from each of the two conferences and are in the tournament depending on how well they did during the regular season. Whoever wins the cup gets the claim to the trophy for the year.

5. What happens if a team wins?

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It's a really big deal to win the Stanley Cup. Basically, it's just a ton of bragging rights and being able to say that your team worked really hard to get there. Imagine working so hard to get that big promotion at work and you get it. It's a wonderful feeling but if you don't get it, well there can be some tears (and let me tell you it can be very sad watching hockey players cry.)

6. Who were last year's Stanley Cup winners?

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The defending champs, the Washington Capitals, are back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year. Winning for the first time in franchise history, the Capitals hope to make a Stanley Cup Final appearance and win again. Since I was six years old, I have been the biggest Capitals fan so being able to be in Washington D.C. and watch them win was one of the best moments in my life (I am hoping for a repeat... but this year there are some really awesome teams.)

7. Who is predicted to win?

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Coming in hot with the most wins for the regular season and the team I have been calling to win since their loss to the Washinton Capitals during the third round of the playoffs last year, the Tampa Bay Lightning led by Steven Stamkos are the big favorites to win this year. Both the Calgary Flames and the Vegas Golden Knights are close contenders. I'm calling it now, though. The Tampa Bay Lightning will be hoisting the Stanley Cup in June.

8. Are there any underdogs?

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Out of all the teams (besides the Washington Capitals of course), I was really hoping to see the Carolina Hurricanes go to the playoffs. This team, who have become famous this year for their post-game celebrations, have really stepped it up. The last time this team made a playoff run was in 2009. It's really great to see a team who isn't normally in the playoffs competing. Although I can't wish them luck as they are playing against the Capitals in the first round, I hope to see them play next year.

9. So who should I talk about to make it sound like I actually watch hockey?

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Whenever I talk about hockey, people seem to like to quiz me on players to see if I really know hockey. A few players you should mention to people if they bring the Stanley Cup are as follows. Right Winger on the Tampa Bay Lightning, Nikita Kucherov, is on fire this season with 87 assists. I hate to be basic but Alex Ovechkin and the reason for him is that he is sitting at 51 goals, making this his eighth season to obtain 50+ goals a season.

Brad Marchand is a huge fighter, but the Boston Bruins would be lost without him. If you really want to piss a New York Islanders fan off, you just need to mention John Tavares name. Lastly, Brent Burns is one of the best defensemen and plays for the San Jose Sharks. He's got some pretty great locks of hair and a big toothy smile but he can play hockey like no other. Of course, there are so many other talented great players this playoff run, but these are just a few you could mention.

10.  I heard there are a lot of fights in hockey ... do you think I'll see one?

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Yes, fights happen in hockey all the time but especially during the playoffs. Tensions are high, but so are penalties. Tensions are especially high when a team is playing game four and if they don't win they are done. I have seen some pretty nasty fights break out during the playoffs and it's not pretty especially when it involves fans. Be prepared to see some fights break out and would not be surprised to see if Tom Wilson gets suspended again as he does every year (for no good reason) during the playoffs.

11. Why does the Stanley Cup Playoffs affect me?

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs are way more fun than a lot of other sports playoffs in my opinion. I saw this first-hand when the Washington Capitals won and how the whole city of D.C., Virginia, and Maryland came together (yes we see you bandwagon fans). It's a sport that's fast, exciting and brings people together.

May the best team win.

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