Today, the U.S. men’s national soccer team begins the final round of qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup. On paper, they should have no problem advancing … while there are some talented players among the six teams still in the competition, only one team, Mexico, is better than the USA (and some would contest that assumption, as well). Today’s opponent, Honduras, includes the San Jose Earthquakes’ stalwart defender, Victor Bernárdez, and while Honduras is a country of barely more than 8 million people, they do love their soccer, and nobody in the region likes the United States, so the match, played in Honduras, will be a tough one for the U.S., given the ambiance (a national holiday has been declared).
In the years since the U.S. hosted the World Cup in 1994, including the last two Cups when I added a separate blog for discussing events, I’ve found it interesting to judge the increased presence of soccer in America by looking at television. And today’s televised action is quite illuminating, for those who haven’t been paying attention.
The Honduras-USA match will be on both versions of beIN (one Spanish, one English), a network that didn’t exist when the 2010 World Cup took place. It is co-owned by Al Jazeera and Time Warner. The Panama-Costa Rica match will also be on beIN. Mexico-Jamaica will be in English on ESPN2 (think about that for a minute), and in Spanish on UniMás, which until a month ago was TeleFutura. All matches will be live.
Also available to fans in the United States: the African Nations Cup has reached the semi-finals. Both matches will be shown live online at WatchESPN. There are a variety of international friendlies today, and some of those are on U.S. TV as well: Spain-Uruguay (on beIN as I type this), England-Brazil (Fox Soccer and Fox Deportes), Netherlands-Italy (Fox Deportes), Sweden-Argentina (GOL TV), Ireland-Poland (GOL TV), and France-Germany (ESPN2, Univision Deportes and WatchESPN). Colombia-Guatemala is available on Pay-Per-View.
Note also that many of those channels are 24/7 soccer. So you’ve got the giant in the room, ESPN, showing soccer across its various platforms, you’ve got Fox and beIN and GOL TV and Univision, and there are other networks who aren’t showing anything today, but who will be part of the picture in the future. (FOX has already started showing selected English Premier League matches on their regular Fox network, and NBC paid a gargantuan sum to show Premier League matches beginning in the fall of 2013. How gargantuan? How about $250 million for three years?)
None of this means anything to the non-fans, of course, and there are still plenty of them. But televised soccer is no longer a marginal item in the States.