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San Diego: Soccer City USA

Audio

The U-S soccer team won over plenty of Americans during the World Cup, but San Diego didn't need any convincing. San Diego is a soccer hotbed.

DWANE BROWN (Anchor): Project Twenty 10, a briefly touted goal for the U.S. soccer team to win the World Cup, didn't happen, but they did get out of the first round and increased their U.S. fan base. Mark Zeigler, sports writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune, has covered every World Cup since 1990. He just got back from Johannesburg, South Africa and joins us on Morning Edition. Mark, thanks for coming in.

MARK ZEIGLER: My pleasure.

BROWN: Did you run into any other people from San Diego or the U.S. there?

ZEIGLER: Actually, I did -- you would be amazed at how many people from San Diego were in South Africa, touring around, watching games. I mean, you know, I lost count at probably about 25, which means there were probably 50 or 100. It just shows, you know there are a lot of people from here who follow the sport, have the means to travel there, and sort of have the spirit of adventure to go to these World Cups. There was one guy I met who's been to every World Cup since 1994, and he just goes every four years.

BROWN: In fact, you say San Diego is a soccer town compared to other U.S. cities. Why?

ZEIGLER: You know, I just read the other day where Portland, Oregon is trying to tout itself as 'Soccer City, U.S.A.' and I just sort of laugh when I see that.

BROWN: Portland, Oregon.

ZEIGLER: We're 'Soccer City, U.S.A.' I don't think there's a close second. In terms of the demographic makeup of the city, in terms of the weather allowing our youth programs to flourish -- people can play all year round. Our proximity to the border, of you know just a soccer-mad nation, and sort of the cross-border traffic that we have. The history of the San Diego soccer team, the professional team was very good, the college teams here are all top 20 teams. So we're just, you know, every aspect of the sport here is huge and big.

BROWN: How does the -- the World Cup event speak to the larger global relationship we have with our international neighbors here at home?

ZEIGLER: If you look at the ratings, the television ratings in San Diego -- we were far and away the best in the country. Particularly when the United States played, we were double the national average, and that's just on the ESPN, ABC ratings -- the English-language ratings. Now you start to factor in the Spanish-language, Univision, or people picking up the Mexican telecast from Tijuana, Mexican networks, over the air on rabbit ears. The ratings are just massive, and it just shows that we're a very, very global city. We're not a city in the middle of the country that just cares about our local high school sports, or our one or two pro teams. We look globally, and it's not always apparent, but when you have an event like this, it sort of allows the city to show what it's all about, and I think, you know, when you see those kind of television ratings, it explains to people what we really are as a city. We're not like a lot of other cities. We're very cosmopolitan, we're very sort of globally oriented.

BROWN: We also have a large Latino population, and African population as well.

ZEIGLER: Basically, anyone from another country is going to be a huge soccer fan when they get here. It's different than being in the United States, and having to sort of cultivate that interest in the game, and that's a different animal all together. And that's what U.S. soccer's been trying to do for two decades now, or maybe even longer. When you have fans from another country come here they're ready-made fans. They're already soccer fans; they're already passionate about the sport. It's in their blood. And so, we have quite a bit of that in San Diego, and I think that is one of the reasons we're such a soccer hotbed.

BROWN: Well, you know, I'm not a big soccer fan, I love the other U.S. sports. It seems like it's a long game and the scoring happens, uh, infrequently. So what do you think it will take for the U.S. to catch on to the sport?

ZEIGLER: I think two things will have to happen. The first is just a growing process, and it'll happen over time. You have to watch more games, you have to understand the sport, you have to understand how the sport works in the rest of the world. And the second thing that's gonna happen is the U.S. team's gonna actually have to win. We like winners in this country. We don't put up with teams that just make the second round and lose all the time. We're not very good at that.

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