July 2, 2014 at 1:00 am

Terry Foster

U.S. soccer has bright future, if growing fan base any indication

In his first minute after entering Tuesday’s World Cup match between the United States and Belgium, Julian Green scored, setting in motion a frenzied American comeback.

The rally, however, failed, and the Americans lost 2-1 in extra time.

The days for U.S. soccer, however, are brighter after its showing at the World Cup — advancing out of the “Group of Death” and into the Round of 16.

There were millions of U.S. soccer fans around the country screaming, throwing their hands in the air and being utterly disappointed when Clint Dempsey missed a late shot on goal that would have tied the game and likely sent it into penalty kicks.

This is the future of American soccer.

Maybe the emotions will die down next week. But this was exciting, and that’s all you can ask for in sports.

If nothing else, everyone got to see the future of American soccer on the field — Green.

And everyone saw an amazing performance by goalkeeper Tim Howard, who made more saves in one World Cup game than had been made in the last 50 years. His teammates were overwhelmed by Belgium, but Howard stood on his head.

This isn’t to say soccer is about to explode in this country, but it won’t entirely die down just as it has after past World Cups.

There’s hope the United States might actually compete for a World Cup title.

This is a pesky, aggressive and determined program. This isn’t football or basketball, where Americans dominate. This is soccer, and the U.S. still is learning.

Sure, there will still be millions who stomp their feet and refuse to recognize the sport. But there will be millions more who appreciate the determination of this country.

'We showed we cared'

The question is, does this showing make a big enough impact?

Roger Faulkner, president of the Michigan Soccer Association, believes so. He was driving back from Campus Martius, where he was among more than 3,000 fans watching the match.

“It was an amazing and enthusiastic crowd,” Faulkner said. “It was great to see Soldier Field opened (in Chicago) so 28,000 fans could see it. It has been astonishing. The TV ratings have been enormous and I think the needle moved a little bit, especially here in Detroit where we showed we cared.”

Long, slow process

The enthusiasm was equaled in Philadelphia, where former goalkeeper and Philadelphia Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz saw the passion. He said it’s a 50-year process to introduce soccer into mainstream America.

“And we’re about 30 years in,” he told the Philadelphia Enquirer.

“As we go through the time cycle, things are going to accelerate. We did a slow burn in the 1980s and 1990s and then picked up speed in the first decade of the 21st century. I’m sensing, partially based on this World Cup, that the next 10 years will be very good.”

It won’t replace baseball, football, basketball or hockey, but soccer is beginning to squeeze its way into the minds and hearts of Americans.

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Team USA fans cheer as they watch the World Cup game against Belgium on Tuesday on a large screen in Cadillac Square in Detroit. / Steve Perez / Detroit News
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