From Pretoria, Michelle Kaufman described a scene unlike any at past World Cups on foreign soil: Tens of thousands of U.S. fans making their way to Loftus Versfeld Stadium, most of them head to toe in red, white and blue, waving flags and blowing vuvuzelas. She also got wind of the enthusiasm for the U.S. team back home.
U.S. defender Jay DeMerit said when he got back to the locker room his cell phone was overloaded with texts and messages. "I had calls from friends watching in bars in Chicago, LA, New York, you name it," he said. "Growing up in Wisconsin, I usually don’t have 100 soccer-related e-mails a day from people. I do now. These are people who probably never watched a soccer game in their lives."
"We don’t get many moments like this," said MLS commissioner Don Garber, who admitted getting choked up when Landon Donovan scored. "I think it’s a sign that people are starting to pay attention. We always talk about the water level rising with soccer. Well, today the water rose."
Kaufman attributes this World Cup's popularity in the USA to the masterful marketing of ESPN, which for most mainstream sports fans in America is the seal of approval: If ESPN says it’s cool, then it’s cool.