BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Thousands of people filled Canalside Sunday night to watch Team USA take on Portugal as World Cup fever sweeps across Western New York.
The big game ended in a tie, but enthusiasm about soccer seems to be higher than ever in the Queen City, and not just at Canalside.
The popularity of soccer in the United States, better known as football to the rest of the world, is being hotly debated in the media, in bars and on the internet.
A “soccer bar” in the heart of the Hertel Avenue commercial strip with the Spanish name, “Mes Que,” is one of the most popular places to follow all the World Cup action.
Soccer fan Denis Yacinthe said, “People who don’t even watch soccer, you see this place and it is overflowing because people know how much this game means to everyone. It really is the sport of the world.”
Soccer’s popularity in Western New York has been years in the making, and starts with youth soccer. Mark Miller, Executive Director of Soccer Shots in Buffalo, has seen its popularity soar during the World Cup.
“The parents and the children are wearing jerseys, whether it is USA or Germany, or Portugal, the different jerseys you might see of the more popular teams,” he said.
Soccer Shots teaches kids ages 2-8 the basic skills and coordination that will benefit them for a lifetime.
Soccer Shots Director of Coaching Steve Bermel said, “For a 2-year-old or a 3-year-old, throwing or catching a ball might be difficult, or hitting a ball in baseball or throwing a football. But to put a soccer ball in front of a 2-year-old kid and say, ‘Okay, kick it into the net,’ their coordination is there.”
Miller also believes the life-altering injuries suffered in other more popular sports is giving parents a less harmful alternative.
“We don’t have the impact injuries. We are focusing on fun, and we really want the kids active. So in a really fun setting, we won’t have the worry of the injuries,” Miller noted.
Bermel added, “They are going to home and say, ‘I got to put my head on a soccer ball, and got to look upside down’ or ‘Coach Steve acted like an elephant and sneezed when I scored a goal.'”
Soccer fans wonder why it is having trouble catching on in the US, when stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Lionel Messi of Argentina are among the highest paid athletes in the world.
“In the United States, we watch football and baseball. But around the world, Messi and Ronaldo are known in every country. Even for those who may not have a television, they know who Ronaldo or Messi are,” Bermel said.
Miller and Bermel believe other countries start youth in soccer at a much younger age than here in the United States and Soccer Shots could spur kids to be more involved in the worldwide phenomenon.
But even if they don’t coach the next Ronaldo or Messi, Soccer Shots aims to inspire a lifelong love of sport and fitness in every player they see out on the field.
You can find out more information about the program, including a list of public parks Soccer Shots operates in during the summer, on their website: www.soccershotsbuffalo.com