Follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blakesebring and at his blog www.tailingthekomets.com.
Is World Cup fever actually contagious?
Starting Thursday evening, the 15th annual Shindigz National Soccer Festival returns at the Fort Wayne Sport Club, and this event is where everyone starts to find out. If soccer is truly growing it has to show it when patriotism is not involved. It has to find a way to attract casual sports fans and keep them. It has to find a way to draw paying customers to actual games and not simply because they are Indiana University or Notre Dame alumni.
Every four years when the World Cup comes along, soccer fans claim this is evidence of soccer's legitimacy as a major sport in the United States. We beat Ghana!
When have we ever NOT been favored to beat Ghana in anything, and should we really be celebrating it when we do?
The main topic on sports radio and message boards was how this proves the sport is a legitimate major force in the U.S. And a month later it disappeared. Again.
When has it been talked about on TV or radio since, and, no, one or two highlight plays a week doesn't matter.
Again, casual fans are the key. Just drawing fans during a World Cup viewing party doesn't instantly mean legitimacy. Brandi Chastain and the U.S. women won the World Cup in 1999, and can anyone tell the measurable difference that meant to women's soccer today?
If soccer actually has become the next big thing in our sporting consciousness then it has to become that all the time and not just every four years when it gets shoved down everyone's throats. That turns off as many potential fans as it turns on.
We beat Ghana! How many of you can point out where Ghana is on a map?
Soccer has to start sustaining that popularity for longer than a month. It has to somehow maintain interest when the next World Cup is still a long way away, and it has to compete with other sports to gain attention and succeed.
The start of high school football cannot be an excuse if this weekend's attendance doesn't spike, either. If soccer is as big as its diehard fans believe, then there are no excuses. Attendance needs to be solid for all three days, and not just Saturday's Indiana-Washington match.
The National Soccer Festival is the perfect showcase. The weather will be perfect, the forum immaculate, the ticket prices more than fair and the individual and team talent is exceptional. It's a wonderful, proven event put on by outstanding people.
For soccer to take the next step up, an annual event like this has to become as important to casual and general soccer fans as an event that happens once every four years in different countries.