It was a record summer for soccer, and there is no denying it.
TV records for soccer viewership exploded during the World Cup, with 26 million Americans tuning in for the final. US players became household names with thrilling games in the “Group of Death” that drew up to 21 million American viewers per game.
Two weeks ago, a record-breaking 109,318 fans watched Real Madrid face Manchester United at Michigan Stadium.
So, with high school soccer kicking in again, how much did the World Cup hoopla help participation in the Blue Water area?
Not that much.
One of the few teams in the area to see a notable increase in participation numbers is Marine City. Head coach Gregg Govier said 18 kids have showed up to practice for a team that usually has 14 or 15 players on the roster.
Most importantly, Govier noted that seven or eight players on this year’s rosters have little-to-no soccer experience. They were recruited by other teammates, and the World Cup-hype machine also helped drive them to the soccer field.
“(We had) four or five football players that have never played soccer before come out to open fields during the summer,” he said, mentioning they followed the World Cup throughout the whole summer.
However, many high schools in the area are experiencing a drop-off in numbers. Thursday was only the second day of practice in the state, but Port Huron head coach Jeremy Rosenau had just 25 combined players for the varsity and junior-varsity teams.
He said the program once could expect 30 to 35 players, but the last four years have seen a decrease.
“Our numbers have been going down the last couple of years,” he said. “It’s strange.”
Rosenau pointed out that there are no soccer programs in Port Huron area middle schools.
Port Huron Northern had 40 kids come out for the first day of practice on Wednesday, a number head coach Bryan Becker said is “edging up” slightly from past years. It’s a solid number, but it’s safe to say World Cup fever didn’t spread to the Blue Water Area in plague-like fashion.
“You think kids are always watching sports and the World Cup, but they don’t as much as we think they do,” Becker said.
Port Huron’s American Youth Soccer Organization has about 280 players signed up for its fall season, according to regional commissioner Suzanne Saunders.
While that is a respectable increase of 25 to 30 youngsters, it includes particpants in a new program for children ages 4 and younger.
“I was hoping for a few more numbers, to be honest with you,” Saunders said.
Fall is regarded as a slow season for local soccer because of competing sports such as football. In the spring, more than 300 youngsters typically compete.
Saunders said it’s not too late to sign up for many divisions for the fall, although some are filled. Players and parents can register at theayso161.org website.