As fans filtered into the facilities at São Paulo Futebol Clube for the U.S. Men’s National Team’s first open-door practice for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, one couldn’t help but notice the boisterous U.S. supporters who had made their way south in support of their team.
Though many of the spectators in the stands were Brazilian, the U.S. contingent among them was the loudest and most conspicuous, sounding out with charismatic chants of players’ names and the usual “USA! USA!”
Ivan Mayovga, a fan from Houston explained why he and his family had made the trip down.
“My father has been to two World Cups, though this is my first. It has been a tiring journey, but definitely worth it,” Mayovga said. “The excitement among fans has definitely grown. Media attention and things like ESPN’s documentary ‘March to Brazil’ have definitely made the anticipation even greater.”
Indeed, it is impossible to deny soccer’s growth in the States over the last few years. An ESPN Sports Poll Annual Report earlier this year revealed that Major League Soccer is now as popular with American children as Major League Baseball. The World Cup seems to have only stoked the fire for fans and media in the U.S.
For members of the USMNT like midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, the increase in support has not gone unnoticed.
“Yeah I think that’s just a credit to all the fans, and the fact that the sport of soccer is growing so much in the States,” Bedoya said. “I’ve seen things on Twitter, things like ticket sales. The U.S. is right up there; I think maybe top three, top two in the world requesting tickets [for the World Cup]. I think that’s amazing.”
In fact, at the World Cup in Brazil this summer, U.S. fans are second, behind host nation Brazil in purchase of tickets according to FIFA. Fans are migrating down from the States in record and increasing numbers.
“The support that has come out now,” said U.S. defender Brad Davis in response to a question about the growth of soccer in his home state of Texas. “All the people who were kind of on the fence about soccer and things like that, now with the World Cup when they see how big it truly is, it kind of gets to the forefront, it takes over.”
After years of feeling marginalized and under-represented in the world of U.S. sports, traveling U.S. soccer fans are showing delight in their surprise at the growth in attention as well.
“It’s really awesome to see,” said Devin Rambo, a fan from Raleigh, N.C., who also made it out to the team’s open-door practice. “There’s been a huge growth in the amount of fans. It’s a fever for the sport that I’ve never seen before.”
As the team’s opening game gets closer, the players will be hoping for this growing fan base to keep supporting them with the passion they’ve been showing in the past year.
“I think Americans in general love being a part of the grandest of things in sports,” Bedoya said. “Soccer has grown in the States, and it’s just amazing to see the support and the fact that the fans are beginning to understand how big soccer really is and [have] a liking for the sport as well.”