JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (BP) --The 2010 FIFA World Cup may well be a turning point for U.S. soccer.
American fans purchased more tickets to the matches than those of any other country -- between 130,000 and 160,000. The U.S. television audience for the national team's World Cup appearances is the highest in history, with an estimated 14 million viewers tuning in to the highly anticipated June 12 match against England, which ended in a 1-1 tie. And, the U.S. now boasts 90 million enthusiasts involved in the sport.
All of this adds up to a sense of euphoria for both fans and players during the month-long World Cup tournament.
"It's nice that people are taking notice and really getting behind our team," said Clarence Goodson, a defender on the U.S. squad. "This World Cup thing only happens once every four years and it's quite a big deal, and we want to go out there and do a good job for the country."
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American fans are seen in abundance at stadiums where their national team plays and at official fan parks where the games are shown on the big screen. Fans are decked out in red, white and blue and wave Old Glory, as the U.S. flag is affectionately called.
One American fan at the U.S.-Slovenia game said: "This is exotic and lovely and lots of fun, and there's no way to really describe how the atmosphere was in the stadium with the U.S. coming out and hearing the national anthem play. It almost brings a tear to your eye to learn how patriotic you are." The June 18 game ended in a 2-2 tie.
U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan shared a similar sentiment. "It was fantastic to walk in," he said about the match against England. "You have a sense of pride about you, especially when you have so many fans and so many flags and you see the colors of your country. It's fantastic to see that support, especially when you go into a big game like we did against England."
A U.S. fan at the game against Slovenia said: "This is my first World Cup and it is awesome. I go to a lot of sporting events and this was the most crowd-participating, getting-into-the-game, insane atmosphere I have ever been to."
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For Goodson and Guzan, however, it's not just about the games and the fans, or even the country. Both are committed followers of Christ and are not shy to talk about their faith.
"Just because you step onto the field doesn't mean that you put [your faith and personal beliefs] aside and put them in the locker until you step off the field," Goodson said. "So that's what I try to carry around with me all the time and behave in such a way that those who don't know Christ come to know Christ because they know me."
Guzan said his faith in Christ allows him to go out and enjoy what he does every day. "It allows me to play to the best of my ability," Guzan said, "and, like I said, it's a relationship that allows me to have fun, and I think it's definitely helped me get to where I am today."
It seems Guzan will continue to enjoy the benefits of soccer's newfound popularity in the U.S. for quite some time. "The team is doing well, obviously," he said. "The sport is growing in the country with MLS [Major League Soccer]; I think all signs are pointing in the right direction."
Team USA will continue its World Cup quest with a June 23 match against Algeria.
Charles Braddix is a writer and photographer for the International Mission Board.