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(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) USA and Honduras are 0-0 at the half during their World Cup soccer qualifying rematch Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Is America ready to go all-in on the World Cup?

Juicy storylines, prime-time TV slots and a young, intriguing U.S. team may make soccer a must-see game stateside.

First Published Jun 09 2014 11:23 am • Last Updated Jun 09 2014 10:17 pm

Tin foil curled around the rabbit ears atop the television in the basement where 16-year-old Garth Lagerwey prayed for a win. Victory meant the United States men’s national team could bury 40 years of futility for good. And these particular unproven Americans were the ones to do it. They took to the field at National Stadium in Port of Spain on the small island of Trinidad on Nov. 19, 1989, and seized their must-win encounter.

Paul Caligiuri’s 30-yard, left-footed volley flew high off his foot and dipped down and into the side netting, whisking by the post. The Lagerwey family lost it. A World Cup drought that had hung over the United States for 40 years suddenly snapped.

At a glance

World Cup opener

Thursday: Brazil vs. Croatia, 2 p.m., ESPN

Team USA World Cup schedule

Group play

June 16: U.S. vs. Ghana, 4 p.m., ESPN

June 22: U.S. vs. Portugal, 4 p.m., ESPN

June 26: U.S. vs. Germany, 10 a.m., ESPN

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"If there was an Internet back then in 1989," said Lagerwey, Real Salt Lake’s general manager since 2007, "that shot against Trinidad would have gone viral."

Twenty-five years since "The Shot Heard Round The World" dipped into the goal, the sport in the U.S. has expanded to domestic heights previously unimaginable. Now it might be on the cusp of going viral. The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil could be the tournament, obsessed over by billions around the world, to turn into a full-blown soccer outbreak in the United States.


Glamour group » Ironically, it could happen at a time when expectations for a young U.S. team have been almost deliberately tamped down. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has said the Americans "can’t win" this World Cup, and in fact, will be fortunate to get out of Group G, the four-team pool they were assigned in last year’s tournament draw.

But, oh, what a group it is. And the sheer glamour of it could be what propels Americans to their television sets and tablets — especially if their team starts defying expectations.

Up first for the U.S. is Ghana, the team that decidedly punched a ticket home for the Americans in the past two World Cups.

Next is Portugal, which boasts the magnetism of a superstar in Cristiano Ronaldo, a GQ model and the most physically gifted soccer player around.

Finally, Germany. The U.S. Soccer Federation brought in Klinsmann, a former German star and World Cup winner, to implement fresh ideals in the summer of 2011. It also hired the eccentric 49-year-old to push the Americans deep in the tournament.

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"There’s never been a World Cup where you’ve literally had the perfect storyline in every game," said ESPN analyst and former USMNT forward Taylor Twellman. "Ghana, our kryponite. Portugal, sexiest player in the world right now, there’s no denying it. It’s hysteria. Germany, where your head coach won a World Cup, a European Cup and you have now five German-American players on your team."

It’s prime time » Another reason Americans may be poised to hop on the World Cup bandwagon: Each of the three U.S. group games will be televised in prime time, and most of the other tournament matches will be shown either in the late morning or early evening.

This is a far cry from the 2002 World Cup in Japan, when games were played at 2:30 a.m., or 2010 in South Africa when the first match of the day kicked before sunrise.

Despite some civil unrest in Brazil and the reality that some stadium venues may not be finished by Thursday’s first match between Brazil and Croatia, the sell of following a World Cup in the most-soccer crazed country helps, too.

"There is something symbolic about a World Cup being held in Brazil," Twellman said. "We all know Brazilians love their soccer, and, more importantly, know how to throw a party."

Bundle the storylines in the "Group of Death" the Americans reside in, prime-time TV slots and festivities promising a spectacle throughout Brazil.

Is that enough for America to go all-in?

"The sport’s growing because more people are watching soccer, more people are going to be familiar with the World Cup," Lagerway said. "And it doesn’t hurt to have a major U.S. company [ESPN] holding those broadcast rights."

Twellman goes further. He believes this will be the World Cup the U.S. will finally fully embrace, regardless of how Klinsmann’s troops do in Brazil.

"When we look at World Cups in this country, we look at 1994 when we hosted," he said. "While the stadiums were packed, it wasn’t getting the TV attention. I think this World Cup is going to be the one that jump-starts it all. The awareness on TV will be remembered for 2014. The [ratings] have grown TV-wise for every professional sports league in this country. Can you imagine getting a World Cup in Brazil in prime time?"

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