WASHINGTON — While World Cup fever is surging across the Atlantic with an all-European final, a new poll indicates that not even the last-minute heroics of U.S. soccer star Landon Donovan could captivate U.S. audiences the way that Spanish star David Villa and Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder electrified their nations with bending strikes and acrobatic headers into the net.
That's not simply because Ghana knocked out the U.S. in the round of 16 on June 26. According to a Marist Poll released Wednesday, the buzz of the vuvuzela never caught on much in the States, even as Donovan and Co. were stunning England and screeching past Algeria to make the deepest U.S. run in the World Cup tournament since 2002.
Some 63 percent of U.S. residents didn't tune in at all, while 27 percent watched "some" of the tournament and 10 percent saw "most" of it, the poll found.
Those who'd played soccer as children watched more, however: Twenty-four percent of them watched most of it and another 34 percent watched some, the survey found.
A generational gap may explain America's aversion to soccer. While only 11 percent of those 60 and older played the sport growing up, 42 percent of those ages 18 to 29 did gear up in shin guards and cleats as youths.
"This, interestingly, has a hold on younger people," said Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, the director of the Marist College Poll. "Baseball is just the opposite: It's not winning the younger age groups as it has the older age groups."
Soccer ranked as the fourth most popular sport among those who'd played sports as children, trailing baseball/softball as the most popular, followed by basketball and football. Among the 18-29 age group, however, soccer was a close third, favored by 21 percent, behind football at 25 percent and basketball at 24 percent.
The survey of 1,004 U.S. adults, which was taken June 17-24, has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points for the whole sample and 3.5 percentage points for the smaller sample of 907 people who'd played sports as children.
Low overall interest in international soccer notwithstanding, World Cup ratings did reach a 16-year high in the U.S. through the quarterfinals, televised on ESPN or ABC. Each game drew an average of 2.9 million viewers, a 50 percent increase over 2006.
Miringoff said it was hard to know whether this upward trend would continue, but he added that Americans seem to have only a transient appreciation for soccer, a sport that quickly escapes the national consciousness after its brief time in the World Cup limelight.
"We've had these peaks in the past and it doesn't sustain," he said. "After the finals ... we'll move on to the pennant race and the start of football season, and this might get left on the pitch."
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