The United States national team’s World Cup splash is over, but its ripples will continue to affect Seattle Sounders FC and Major League Soccer in the short, medium and long terms.
For the Sounders, the top immediate issue is the return of national team players Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin. Coach Sigi Schmid said the details of their returns were still being determined Thursday, but that both will be back by the July 13 home match against Portland. He also left open some chance of availability for Saturday’s match at Vancouver.
“Each of their timetables will probably be a little bit different: unique to them and to their situation,” Schmid said. “Possibility we might have one — maybe both — for this weekend, but less likely that that’s going to happen. … For sure, both will be back for (Portland), and we’re working out the time as to when to give them the break. Like I said before, it’s a physically demanding tournament, but it’s also mentally a very demanding situation, and you need a break.”
Over the longer term, the United States’ four-game run to the World Cup round of 16 also raised questions about the Sounders’ ability to retain Yedlin, the speedy 20-year-old who appeared in the final three matches.
“For sure, he’s gotten attention,” general manager Adrian Hanauer said. “We’re getting lots of phone calls. DeAndre is going to have a lot of opportunities, and there’s always the potential for a change of scenery. But we’d like to keep DeAndre here. We would like to keep good, young Americans in our league. But again, there are certain realities to our sport, and this issue comes up for every team on the planet.”
Finally, there also is the big question that arises every four years: Will MLS be able to capitalize on the soccer interest apparent from the World Cup television ratings and the thousands of fans who turned out for viewing parties at soccer bars, parks and stadiums?
“We know that there are tens of millions of both passionate and casual soccer fans in this country,” Hanauer said. “And we are slowly but surely bringing them into the fold in MLS. But it is going to be a slow and steady race. I’ve said it a million times: It’s going to be an evolution, not a revolution.”
Hanauer said World Cups can draw attention to soccer the same way that the Olympics can bring attention to gymnastics: a quick, bright burst without dramatic impact on the popularity of either sport at other times of the year.
Even beyond patriotism and spectacle, the World Cup also presents soccer at its highest level, while MLS ranks several rungs down. Hanauer said the quality of the league is improving, but that also is at a more evolutionary pace that keeps salaries in line with the revenues generated, especially from the new eight-year broadcast-rights deals.
“It is a bit of a chicken-and-egg issue,” Hanauer said. “I don’t know the answer to if you spend Mexican League money, does that change things completely? If you spend France-type money, does that change things? If you spend England-type money? It’s also just not in the cards. It’s going to be a slow and steady process.”
Still, there are hopes that some fans who have experienced soccer through the World Cup will now direct their attention to MLS.
“The best thing that U.S. soccer fans can do — or people who have grown an interest in this sport — is support your MLS teams and to watch it,” Schmid said. “Like I said before, if we can get 10 or 15 percent of those people who tuned in for the first time to stay with us — or that have tuned in before but weren’t regular viewers to become regular viewers — that’s a huge plus for our sport.”