World Cup 2014: L.A. Galaxy President Talks U.S. Soccer Fever, Landon Donovan's New Role
America is currently suffering from a serious dose of World Cup fever that has even spread to Los Angeles, as day-to-day activities were paused across the country on Thursday morning for the U.S. vs. Germany match.
With 10.8 million viewers watching the ESPN telecast, and the WatchESPN service setting a record by capturing 3.2 million live unique viewers, the loss that still catapulted Team USA into the knockout round was the second highest-rated men's World Cup match ever.
In L.A., fans once again gathered to watch the match at a L.A. Galaxy viewing party on Hermosa Pier — following a sell-out event at Lot 613 downtown for the U.S. vs Portugal match on Sunday — and Galaxy president and former player Chris Klein told The Hollywood Reporter why the phenomenal success of the tournament in Brazil is good for the team, the MLS and soccer as a whole.
"The entire country has taken to the World Cup this year and interest has grown incredibly since 2010," he told THR. "When you get a team like this who can go down there and in their first game pull off a spectacular win [like they did against Ghana], it really gets everyone involved. I think there's no doubt that it is going to continue to grow.
"Now for us, the question is 'how can we continue to grow the sport beyond the World Cup?'" he explained. "What you are seeing now is the culture that soccer people have been talking about for a long time, and the excitement and the passion that it creates."
While MLS, NFL and NBA remain the sports of choice across America, people are increasingly beginning to understand soccer, "not only at the World Cup level but in places like Seattle, Portland and L.A. where you see an amazing atmosphere at MLS games as well," explained Klein, who was a four-time all-star with the Kansas City Wizards, Real Salt Lake and the Galaxy.
"With our league, the Premier League and the fact that there are more people watching this World Cup than ever before, you're beginning to see that there are enough soccer fans in this country to make it popular," he predicted. "We're also seeing a number of players who went abroad and are now coming back to the MLS, like Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey," who have been dominant on the World Cup squad.
Among the reasons for the increased interest is "an immigrant population that really embraces the game because of their history and roots," explained Klein. "It is also generational, you are getting parents who have played it as a kid and are now teaching their kids," he added. "For the MLS, it's a continuation of the things that we've been building on for the last 20 years. This doesn’t surprise us, but we just have to use it and continue to tie ourselves to it."
Galaxy player Omar Gonzalez is currently down in Brazil playing for Team USA, but the biggest star in L.A. — and the whole of America — Landon Donovan, was left off the roster in a very controversial move by coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
"Personally, I don’t think anyone thought it was the right choice, but I think the positive was the way Landon handled it and the maturity he showed in the process by rallying behind the team even when they went down to Brazil, which has helped everyone," Klein told THR, adding. "It was tough to see a guy that I played with and most fans can identify with, not be down there."
Acting as an on-air analyst for ESPN "is great for him, instead of sitting on the couch — to be able to get involved and tie himself to the World Cup — as there is no player in our history of this country who has had the impact of him on soccer," he explained.
Rather than being on location in Brazil, Donovan is staying in the U.S. to play in upcoming Galaxy games. "He shifted gears right away and called us up and said 'I am disappointed but I am ready to start playing again.' He's one of a kind," said Klein.