The United States Men's National Team is in prime position to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, and while in Brazil it will be very important to advance to the knockout stages.
Why, you ask?
Soccer is one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. Over the past decade we have seen extraordinary growth. Networks are fighting over rights to overseas leagues, and the MLS has become an exciting product that fans tune in for.
Kids across the nation are picking up soccer. They are sporting Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey jerseys and asking their parents for tickets to matches. There is an excitement for the game, and growing expectations for the men who don the crest.
Their past performances have set the standard.
During the 2006 World Cup the U.S. wasn't expected to advance. The American audience was just happy they qualified. However, they drew with Italy. That was a major development for the team, and it piqued the interest of the casual fans tuning in.
America drew with Italy!? How good are we?
Italy, of course, went on to capture the World Cup crown.
Enter 2010. There was even more excitement surrounding the men's national team this time. Based on the draw the U.S. received, everyone knew it had a chance to advance. And it did. In dramatic fashion.
Finishes like the one against Algeria gives the American fans what they want. The high drama of that match endears them to the casual fan and increases their stock. Advancing to the knockout stage also set a precedent they expect now.
Not advancing in 2014 would set U.S. soccer back. The fans will understand if the USMNT are placed in a very difficult draw. The analyst panels on World Cup preview shows will make sure of that, but in general it will be expected to advance.
If the U.S. has a poor showing on the grandest of stages, it will be like dropping an ice cream cone on a warm summer's day. Deflating.
Those kids who are picking up the sport because of the increased excitement will go back to football, basketball and others.
Over-dramatic? Perhaps a bit, but children are bandwagoners. It is just the truth. If the U.S. falls out of favor and looks poor then they will want to try for something else.
This is important for the future of American soccer. Getting out of the group stage will continue the upward trajectory of U.S. soccer as a whole and have everyone looking forward to 2018 and beyond.