Football hasn’t always been everyone’s cup of tea in the United States. FIFA’s decision to stage the 1994 World Cup in the North American country was a surprise to many. Only 16 years earlier had the world’s most watched sporting attraction been shown on live TV in the States for the first time. And even then, the commentary was in Spanish.
The 1994 World Cup helped stage the return of a professional league in the country when the Major League Soccer returned in 1996 after a 12-year hiatus following the collapse of the North American Soccer League as it was called.
USA didn’t fair too well in their own World Cup, becoming the first host nation not to finish in the top two in the group stage. However, it was the first time in the tournament’s history that some of the teams finishing third would progress to the knockout stages, and Bora Milutinovic’s side did just that.
Further progression in the competition would surely have helped grow the TV audience and popularity of the sport all those years ago, but they went out in the Round of 16 to eventual champions Brazil. The online bookmakers rightfully had the USA as one of the outsiders for the competition, much longer odds than they have had in recent events.
Today, the MLS is one of the most attended leagues in the world and the TV audience continues to grow each year, as well as the FIFA World Cup and UEFA Champions League being very popular in the USA too. Perhaps it was only ever a matter of time before football caught up with them, as it is the most popular sport in the world. Whilst the likes of American Football and Baseball have only succeeded in a handful of countries outside of the States.
Now you can ask any football fan in America and they will have a favourite European club too. Whether it be from the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga or successful clubs from other major countries, such as Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain or Juventus.
Real Madrid and Barcelona seem to top the chart when it comes to favourite teams outside of their own country. And those two meet in the biggest derby in world football this weekend as Spain’s capital plays host to the two biggest football clubs in the world.
You can expect this weekend’s El Clasico, the heated rivalry between Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, to draw a large viewership in the United States too. The game kicks off at 21:00 local time, meaning fans north of the pond can watch it during the day (compared to Premier League lunchtime kickoffs that are early morning in all American timezones). With no American Football, Basketball, Baseball or other professional sports taking place at the same time in their own country will only help further increase the audience.
This weekend’s clash is of huge importance too. Victory for Barcelona would take them top of La Liga, at least temporarily. Whilst victory for Real Madrid would see them leapfrog their rivals to get back into the title race. Both sides have found their form in recent months too.
Expect a big audience in Spain, Europe and the United States for this one as Lionel Messi, in the final year of his contract at Camp Nou, looks to put one over his side’s fiercest rivals once again.