The unparalleled spectacle that is the World Cup inspires hopes, dreams and questions around the globe. But among soccer fans in the United States, the key question is: Will this be the year the game is finally embraced here?
Only the tournament will tell.
The 2010 World Cup in South Africa begins this Friday, June 11, and will see teams representing 32 nations compete across nine cities. Its four weeks of matches will attract billions of television viewers worldwide.
"We haven't really started yet and there's already tremendous media attention and hype," says Eric Bertun, the president of the Madison FC youth soccer program. "It seems like ESPN is really going all out to show this World Cup. They've had their fingers in it a long time, but now they're really working on capturing the casual sports fan."
In Madison, interest in soccer has long been buoyed by a vibrant youth and club culture, along with the international influence of the UW. One sign is the growing number of bars, restaurants and other establishments hosting World Cup watching parties.
Fans will gather at longstanding soccer spots like Hawk's Bar & Grill and the Claddagh and Brocach Irish pubs, along with new arrivals like the Coopers Tavern and Cancun Mexican Restaurant. More family-friendly fandom can be found at the Keva and Break Away sports centers, and a series of events hosted by Calabash Gifts on Monroe Street.
One of the tournament's first games is this Saturday, June 12, when the U.S. takes on England for the first time in 60 years.
A list of Madison venues hosting World Cup watch parties and other events is available here.