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Football fever in US looks set to stay
IT wasn't too long ago when not many people in the United States would watch a game of football, or soccer as the Americans prefer to call it. Football isn't the most popular sport in the world's largest economy, and, in all honesty, it probably will never be. The Yanks would much prefer their regular dose of baseball, basketball, ice hockey and their own brand of American football.
But if the last fortnight is any indication, the Americans have developed a deep love for the Beautiful Game, and it is a relationship that looks set to stick for the long haul.
Nearly 25 million people tuned in to the US's recent World Cup match against Portugal. The ratings were the highest for any football game telecast in America and reached more viewers than events such as the National Basketball Association finals or baseball's World Series.
Even US President Barack Obama, who was on board Air Force One that Sunday evening, made it a point to catch the US draw 2-2 with Portugal. He was also in the air when the US played Germany last Friday, and he followed the action with his aides in the plane's cable TV-equipped conference room.
Down on the ground, across the 50 states, thousands of Americans turned up at outdoor viewing parties to follow their team's exploits in Brazil. From Kansas to Chicago to New York City, fans turned up in droves to cheer on their team, even though some games kicked off on a weekday afternoon. Many were clad in the new white jerseys of the national team, with retailers reporting brisk sales of the US$90 shirts.
I was in Washington last week on a work trip and managed to catch two of the US's group games - the draw with Portugal and the 0-1 defeat to Germany - and it was refreshing to see so many people following football with such enthusiasm.
When I was a student in Seattle some 15 years ago, you could hardly get any football on TV. The English Premier League was non-existent back then, but nowadays the games from the world's most popular league are broadcast "live" to millions of American households.
The increased interest in football in the US can also be attributed to a generation of younger Americans who grew up playing the sport in the youth leagues and now count themselves among the more devoted fans of the sport.
Sure, the US's stay in the World Cup lasted all of two weeks, until the 1-2 extra time defeat to Belgium yesterday, but the impact that this spirited team has left on a sport that has struggled to take off over the years has been nothing short of remarkable.
Football fans now know more than just David Beckham, the former Los Angeles Galaxy star, or Mia Hamm, who helped the US win the Women's World Cup back in 1999.
The likes of Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore and Tim Howard are all household names in their own right today. Even national coach Jurgen Klinsmann, a former German international who has made California his home since 1998, is recognised wherever he goes.
The American adventure in Brazil may be over, but it looks like the US's obsession with all things football isn't going to fade anytime soon.