World Cup Sparks More Interest In U.S. Soccer

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All through the World Cup, Kansas City has been a terrific place to watch a match. Interest in soccer has exploded there, stoked by the rise of the city's professional soccer team.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah, Tom, saying attention was generated in the United States might be an understatement. Who needed to actually travel to Brazil? Yesterday, Americans by the thousands packed into stadiums. Soldier Field in Chicago, the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Texas - and there was the scene in Kansas City, where soccer mania has already been growing, thanks to the city's major league soccer team, Sporting KC. During yesterday's U.S.-Belgium match, Frank Morris from member station KCUR was in Kansas City braving one boozy, flag-waving crowd.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: So this is kind of unusual. It's a Tuesday afternoon in Kansas City. There's no game going on here, but there's all kinds of people streaming into downtown with red, white and blue top hats, tank tops, scarves, faces, like this guy.

STU COLEMAN: My name is Stu Coleman, like the cooler - no relation.

MORRIS: Let me just run this down again. So you've got red, white and blue swimming trunks, some red, white and blue suspenders, a white shirt, big red, white and blue tie, red, white and blue sparkly cap and a red, white and blue flag pin on the cap and some white sunglasses.

COLEMAN: 'Cause I wanted to fit in with everybody else. But - do you know what I'm saying? (Laughing).

MORRIS: This crowd is packed into the center of an outdoor entertainment district here. 13,000 sweaty people - all of them watching one big screen. There's a lot of beer and a big guy out front decked out like a famous wrestler.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I am Hulk Hogan. I am a real American.

CROWD: I believe.

MORRIS: And another weird thing about this sporting event - everybody seems to be cheering for one team.

CROWD: USA. USA.

REMINGTON PINICK: USA, man. Watch this soccer game. It's awesome. Got to love the patriotism of the country. It's great.

MORRIS: Why do you come out, though? Why not just watch it on TV?

PINICK: All these people - it just make it fantastic. Better than any place in the nation, in the world. We rock it here in KC.

MORRIS: Kansas City's major league champion soccer team, Sporting KC, drew a lot of these folks, Remington Pinick included, into the game. As a bonus, two Sporting KC players were on the field against Belgium. Matt Besler, who's from the Kansas City suburbs, and Gram Zusi who always draws a special cheer here.

UNIDENTIFIED FANS: (Singing) Good times never seemed so good. So good. So good.

MORRIS: Spirits were still running really high at the end of regulation play.

MONICA LEIKER: Well, I thought it would be 0, like, 4 at this point.

MORRIS: But Monica Leiker, and most of the crowd, finally slacked a little after Belgium scored a second goal.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: And Lukaku gets it. Lukaku scores. Two-and-0 to Belgium.

MORRIS: Whitney Novak watched the last World Cup four years ago at this same spot with a lot fewer people. She says, even with the loss, U.S. soccer has momentum.

WHITNEY NOVAK: And so maybe four years from now we'll have even more - a better team and more people out to watch.

MORRIS: The U.S. team rewarded Novak's optimism seconds later with one final goal.

(CROWD CHEERING)

MORRIS: And Chad Dickerson left a changed man.

CHAD DICKERSON: It was like a party within a party. It was like, yeah. But, at the same time, I appreciate soccer that much more because of the World Cup.

MORRIS: So were you a soccer fan before this?

DICKERSON: I was not.

MORRIS: Now Dickerson and his buddies say they might even buy season tickets for professional soccer. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Kansas City.

GREENE: This is NPR News.

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