For the past three weeks, the world - including the United States - has been enthralled with the World Cup.
According to the Nielson Company, more than 16.5 million viewers watched Tuesday's knockout game between the United States and Belgium. That total exceeded the average viewership for the most recent World Series and NBA Finals - events that took place during prime-time when more people were home to watch.
On Sunday, June 29, 24.7 million viewers watched the United States play Portugal. The just-concluded NBA Finals where the San Antonio Spurs beat the Miami Heat averaged 15.5 million viewers, with 18 million watching the final game. Last fall's World Series averaged 14.9 million viewers, with 19.2 million watching the Boston Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the last game.
United States' goalkeeper Tim Howard, left, makes a save as Belgium's Romelu Lukaku, front, looks on during their World Cup round of 16 soccer match at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil, on Tuesday.
North Brunswick High School hosted a World Cup soccer match viewing party on Tuesday for the United States against Belgium to watch goalie Tim Howard, who attended North Brunswick High School, in North Brunswick, N.J.
With the country taking such an interest into the sport, the question now is how to sustain that interest and continue to grow the sport. Instead of talking about the four major sports - football, basketball, baseball and hockey - soccer fans would like to make it the five major sports, with soccer in the mix.
Local soccer enthusiast Brett Gould noted there are so many options for today's youth, that it's hard to grow any sport.
"Kids are doing so many things these days," Gould said. "There are so many athletic options and social media options. In order for this to take off, for it to succeed ... we need to give them resources. In Brazil, they play on the beach or run on cement somewhere we would never send our kids to play. They do it barefoot with garbage wrapped up in a ball and garbage cans tipped on their side for goals. We have a different view. Right now, focus is at a premium. (Kids in the United States) look at soccer as an option. They say, 'I will play until something else opens up.' Until we look at it as not an option but as a decision, we are still going to look like that team just happy to get out of pool play."
Silver Creek girls soccer coach Kevin Rice hopes viewers in this country still watch the World Cup, even though the U.S. has been eliminated.
"For United States viewers, I hope they don't say, 'It's over. I will go watch game No. 71 in baseball.' I equate it to the NCAA Basketball Final 4. Just because your team is out, but not to watch it is silly. You are going to see some great athletes doing some great things. For people who aren't avid soccer viewers, this is when you can see the best teams in the world and see why this sport is cool and fun to watch. In a 90 minute game, there may be 35 minutes of dead time. I get it. But at any given moment, the pace can pick up and something super can happen."
"People see it as the ball being kicked around," Gould added. "I see the most beautiful chess game. You will never have a soccer game where it's repeated. You will never have the same moment repeated in a 10-minute span. There are no timeouts. Think about a National Football League game - the coaches script the first 15 plays. There is no such thing in soccer. The game itself teaches so much about life and decision-making. You do your homework and know tendencies of your opponent. Soccer thinks three steps ahead. If that's the moment you decide to make a decision, you're crushed. That's same as life."
Just like hockey, soccer is not a sport that is easy to find on television and it's hard to find a player to begin watching. United States goaltender Tim Howard gained a ton of fans and admirers during the World Cup, mostly in the team's 2-1 defeat to Belgium last Tuesday. In that game, Howard made 16 saves - the most ever in a World Cup game.
"Watch how many kids will want to be a goalie now," Gould said. "Tim Howard will be a poster on a lot of kids' walls after that game. No goalie has ever been quite like that."
For Rice, his love of the sport began when he was young, and his interest eventually got his father into the sport.
"When I came home with a flyer for travel soccer, I wanted to play because my friends were playing," Rice said. "I loved it. My dad loves it so much, he got educated and licensed to coach high school soccer. He was in his late 30s before he even got into it. Now he is in his 70s and loves it just as much as I do. That's a cool thing that can happen. The younger generation can bring in the older generation. Soccer is way farther ahead now than it was when I was growing up in the mid-80s. It's growing. One important question is how does the U.S. become competitive? Is our goal just to make it out of group stage and maybe win a quarterfinal game? We have to look at the soccer academies and target them young enough and have them come up through the system."
"I think the one thing is, a lot of times, if the parents have never played, they are apprehensive because they never played," Fredonia State coach P.J. Gondek added. "Now you're seeing parents who were high school players. I think as we see younger generation come through, we see a lot more kids who have parents who were players. And that will help."
An image which was a beautiful site for soccer enthusiasts was seeing parties throughout the country during games - such as the viewing party at the Buffalo canalside or similar ones in New York City, Kansas City and Chicago, in which thousands of fans were showing up adorned in red, white and blue.
"You get a little surge," Gondek said. "It had something to do with a German coach (Jurgen Klinsmann) and the exclusion of Landon Donovan who was a soccer hero. That created a hype. In addition to that, being in the group of death and having to compete against Ghana, Portugal and Germany, it was seen as something exciting and something impossible to get out of the group. That was something Americans seemed to latch onto. How do we keep that going for the next three or four years? That's tough. I think with the women's World Cup being in Canada, that will create a hype. The women are close to one of the favorites. That will help. For me, a lot of this stems from the fact that soccer is becoming an emerging sport. Major League Soccer teams are seeing record attendance over the last few years which they have never seen before. Do I think this soccer can contain the level we have seen the last two or three weeks, I don't think so, but is it all about USA? The big World Cup games are going to get a strong showing in terms of viewers watching these games as we get closer to the finals. We won't see as much as some of the U.S. games. I think soccer is getting a lot closer to being a popular sport. I think we are getting a lot closer."