Saturday, February 6, 2016

Can Philly host the World Cup?

More video, photos and audio from the Gold Cup doubleheader.

Can Philly host the World Cup?

Gallery: Gold Cup Soccer

I spent so much time blogging and editing video last night that I forgot to put together the gallery of Ron Cortes' photos from the doubleheader. They're quite good, so check them out above.

Next, as promised, is audio of U.S. World Cup bid executive director David Downs' interview with reporters last night. Prior to taking that position, Downs was the president of Univision Sports, and worked at ABC before that. As a result, he understands both the English- and Spanish-speaking sports fans in this country particularly well. He's not a bad politician either, which will also help as the U.S. tries to land either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.

The full interview is in the audio player below, but here are a few key excerpts:

On whether the playing surface at Lincoln Financial Field will have to be widened in order for Philadelphia to host World Cup games:

"The field dimensions are going to be an issue at almost all the NFL stadiums. I was walking down on the field today and there's obviously some solutions that could be put into place to add a little bit more grass ... I think it's playing slightly under 70 yards tonight and that's probably not going to cut it with FIFA, but we'll see ... I think 70 yards is basically considered the international minimum standard."

On whether any cities are considered locks to be part of the U.S.' World Cup bid package:

"I really wouldn't say so. Although, you know, I'm not going to name them, but there are a couple, three, cities that it's hard to imagine the World Cup not taking place in. But there really aren't any locks."

(I told you he's not a bad politician.)

On the growth in popularity of the U.S. national team among Hispanic-Americans:

One of the things I was involved with at Univision was trying to make the team more attractive to Hispanics. It may not necessarily be the number one team for somebody that's just arrived from Ecuador or Colombia or Mexico, but certainly it can be a team that's respected as the number two team.

And then this, which I'm breaking out separately because it's one of the most surprising statements I've ever heard about American soccer on television:

"The ratings for the Confederations Cup [Final] for Univision, USA-Brazil, were very high. As a matter of fact, higher than what Telemundo received earlier in the week for a Mexico national team friendly."

Granting that the U.S. game was on a weekend, against the world's most popular team and in a tournament final, that's still an enormous accomplishment. Mexican soccer is a ratings juggernaut for the Spanish-language networks, even rivaling some English-language broadcasts sometimes.

For example, the semifinal match in the 2007 Gold Cup between Mexico and Guadeloupe, broadcast on Telefutura, drew a higher rating between 10 and 11 p.m. Eastern Time than any of the English- or Spanish-language networks.

Univision's telecast of the championship game between Mexico in the United States drew a 2.5 rating on a Sunday afternoon. A few hours later, NBC's prime-time telecast of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals between Ottawa and Anaheim drew a 1.8 rating.

Again, I realize that there are a lot of flaws in this data. I'm not trying to compare soccer to football or baseball, and I'm certainly not one of those people who prostletyzes about how soccer is going to take over everything. It's not.

But I think you get the point I'm trying to make. And to go back to Downs' comment about the U.S.-Brazil game, keep in mind that a lot of the English-speaking audience watched ESPN's broadcast because it was in high definition and Univision's was not. Had Univision's broadcast been in HD, it probably would have been even higher.

If American soccer is making serious inroad with the nation's Hispanic population, that's a huge deal. One of the best things about yesterday's doubleheader was the number of Honduras fans who stayed after the first game to root for the U.S. in the second. And in the long term, American soccer's popularity among Hispanic immigrants could lead to more American-born children of immigrants wanting to play for the U.S. national team.

We've already seen that with José Francisco Torres, a Texas native who plays for Pachuca in the Mexican league. Torres chose to play for the U.S. instead of Mexico.

Torres' decision garnered major headlines in part because of Edgar Castillo, a midfielder who was born in the United States but played for the Mexican national team in qualifying for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Recently, there have been reports that Castillo is considering a switch to the U.S. team, which he can do because of a technicality in FIFA rules.

It's all part of the same trend. If it continues, it will only mean good things for the future.

Let's close out the week with a few more videos. I spent a few hours before yesterday's game interviewing fans from all four countries who were tailgating outside Lincoln Financial Field. It took me a while to find fans from Panama and Canada, but they were there. I had hoped to post the video on here before the U.S. game, but couldn't because of a glitch in our video server.

You can see highlights of the game here, including Kyle Beckerman's golazo early in the second half. I'm not sure how much bitterness there was in the shot, but there was plenty of soul, life, heart and power in that right leg.

There is one thing missing from the fan video that I hope you can help me find. Between the two games, I spent a few minutes on the concourse behind the U.S. fan section meeting up with a few friends. While we were chatting, the Sons of Ben entered the stadium with the American Outlaws marching band. The procession was quite a sight, and I'd like to post footage of it on here.

If you have a good clip or know someone who does, please shoot me an e-mail. Thanks for your help.

Staff Writer
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About this blog
Soft Pretzel Logic is's college sports blog, with a primary focus on the University of Pennsylvania. You'll also see coverage of the Big 5, other major college sports events in the region, and the annual Penn Relays track and field meet.

Jonathan Tannenwald Staff Writer
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