Americans shrug off the Mickey Mouse jibes to assert rising global strength

Tired of being patronised, Americans see the England game as a chance to prove they are a serious force

The United States' World Cup effort has taken over the cover of this week's Time magazine – proof, if it were really needed, that the country which has sold more tickets to the finals than any other nation bar the hosts and where more money has been paid out for the TV rights than in any other place on earth, is fixated. But it is the tenor of of the accompanying essay, rather than the iconic cover image, which reveals most about the nation's relationship with the game that, to general sniggering from the back, it still calls soccer.

"Yes soccer is America's Game," reads the headline to a piece in which Bill Saporito gets straight to grips with the elephant in the room. "Please stop lecturing us," he writes. "Americans call it soccer because there's a perfectly great sport here already called football. So don't get your football knickers in a twist about it. Soccer it is."

The tone is reflective of an unmistakable mood among many here in the American camp, who are quite frankly irritated by the patronising idea, as they see it, that the US – Confederations Cup finalists last autumn after vanquishing a Spanish team who had not lost for two years – are somehow still the ingénues; a nation still waiting for the sport to take off. "There are still articles across the Atlantic which say MLS [Major League Soccer] is a good pub team," Sunil Gulati, president of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) said yesterday. "I've not seen 'Mickey Mouse' football but Disney's a very good partner so we're willing to help them."

Disney is part of a vast panoply of commercial partners around soccer, a sport that now trails only basketball for the number of participants in the US. The size of crowds that have been drawn to their warm-up games reveals how far the nation has travelled in a short time. Almost 55,000 watched the national team play Turkey in a friendly in Philadelphia on 29 May.

The MLS might remain a distance off Premier League – or even Bundesliga – standard, but it has commanded average attendances in 2010 of 16,354, which would be a respectable level for most Championship clubs in Britain. The average pales by comparison with the extraordinary success last season of the new Seattle Sounders FC, whose founding was another totemic moment in the history of US soccer, with average attendances of 30,943.

The TV money has flooded in. The $425m (£290m) paid out by ESPN and the powerful Spanish-language broadcaster Univision for the TV rights to the 2010 and 2014 World Cup tournaments – the 2002 rights, by contrast, went for $40m – are part of an investment that has seen three dedicated soccer channels on cable, with Visa, McDonald's and Coca-Cola investing in huge World Cup campaigns. ESPN's promotional campaign for the World Cup is the largest it has ever undertaken for any sport – round or oval ball.

The European clubs are the biggest draw, with vast crowds attracted to exhibition games from touring sides, who will include Manchesters City and United and Tottenham this summer. Barcelona v Galaxy attracted 94,000. Last month the Fox network moved the baseball game between New York Yankees and the New York Mets from afternoon to evening to accommodate live coverage of the Champions League final between Internazionale and Bayern Munich. MLS continues to sign stars to keep up : Thierry Henry is expected to follow David Beckham and Seattle's Freddie Ljungberg this summer.

All this for a league that has only been in existence for 15 years and just three years ago was actually paying broadcasters to carry its games, rather than take the substantial sums it now receives. Yet no game has resonated through the US in the way that tomorrow evening's does, with victory over England capable of delivering greater momentum to the game's development than any single moment since the hosting of the 1994 finals. "I think it probably is the most anticipated game of all time for us," Gulati said. "The watercooler talk is certainly greater than anything I've ever seen. [Coach] Bob [Bradley] might pick a few different teams to play first from an onfield perspective but from my point of view it's the ideal game."

The prime concern for England, of course, is whether the game's grassroots and commercial development has actually been mirrored by the development of a body of players who can do to the nation what they did in 1950, when in such infancy. "We're not used to being second best but I just let the facts speak for themselves," Gulati said. "In 15 years our league has come a long way. When you look back [at the Confederations Cup] last summer and people said 'this team can't play.' But you beat Spain, that hadn't lost in a couple of years,and you take Brazil to the max so I don't know what else we have to do to prove ourselves. I guess part of what else we have to do would be to win on Saturday."

News
Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
people
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl despairs during the arena auditions
tvX Factor review: Drama as Cheryl and Simon spar over girl band

News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
news
News
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Angel Di Maria celebrates his first goal for Manchester United against QPR
Football4-0 victory is team's first win under new manager Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
art
News
newsIn short, yes
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris claimed the top spot in this week's single charts
music
Sport
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
News
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
News
i100
Life and Style
Cara Delevigne at the TopShop Unique show during London Fashion Week
fashion
News
The life-sized tribute to Amy Winehouse was designed by Scott Eaton and was erected at the Stables Market in Camden
peopleBut quite what the singer would have made of her new statue...
Sport
England's Andy Sullivan poses with his trophy and an astronaut after winning a trip to space
sport
News
peopleThe actress has agreed to host the Met Gala Ball - but not until 2015
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories