Rowdies hope to ride soccer's wave of popularity - FOX 13 News

Rowdies hope to ride soccer's wave of popularity

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ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) -

In the U.S., soccer has been kicked around for years. But not in the way the advocates of the sport wanted it. It's a game that Americans liked to play, but not to watch. The Rowdies are one of many teams in the U.S. witnessing a change in American culture.

A recent poll by ESPN states that, among the ages of 12-24, soccer is the second-most popular sport in the U.S. to the NFL.

Rowdies head coach Ricky Hill didn't think he'd see the day when soccer in the U.S. would reach this level.

"No, I could never have envisioned that it could take to that extent," said Hill. "Obviously growing up in England, that's our number one sport, main game. Cricket is our second game. I remember someone said years ago that, I think it was a TV channel [announcer] that said they'd rather watch yachting as opposed to soccer. I think that might have changed slightly."

There are many factors why soccer is on the rise. Since 2006, the U.S. has had the highest numbers of kids playing the sport in the world. Since 1990, participation has doubled, but the big kicker is television. America networks are dishing out million for broadcast rights to air premier European matches, putting soccer in spotlight.

"Yeah, I guess it's the TV deals. I guess with the globalization of soccer throughout the world with the Premier League and renowned as the best league in the world in taking the brand all over the place."

Soccer has just celebrated its 100th anniversary in the United States and it's taken that long for the sport to be accepted in this country. It's becoming so popular that, in the next 10 years if the trend continues, it would overtake basketball and even baseball.

"I really respect basketball and baseball," said Rowdies forward Georgi Hristov. "But I think this is the game that has more passion than any other game. For me coming from Europe, soccer is number one and I think it's not long before it's the best sport here."

Adding to the interest is the quality of players that are playing professional soccer in the U.S.

"Now it's a league that's commendable, in terms of the quality that's in there. USA's national team has done really well in the last few years. So everything is on a up."

The Rowdies -- who play their home opener this weekend in St. Pete -- admit locally they have long way to go before they become as relevant as the Bucs, Lightning and Rays. But their sport is heading in the right direction.

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