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Soccer enjoying strong summer

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This is not a column about how soccer has “arrived” in the United States. There will be no cliches about how Americans are finally embracing a sport that has been the first love of the rest of the world since the dawn of time.

But it is clear that the month of June has been a good one for the sport, and it will culminate this weekend with a highly anticipated doubleheader featuring D.C. United, the Los Angeles Galaxy and the top two teams in Europe.

In the last few weeks, American sports fans have probably seen more soccer on television than at any time since 2006 World Cup, and for some the daily exposure even exceeds that. The UEFA 2008 European Championship (Euro 2008 for short) has been watched by millions of sports fans in the United States, and it followed live coverage of the Champions League final rounds.

Despite the Euro 2008 games being played in Austria and Switzerland, they have all been available live on television to anyone with a basic cable connection.

The timing of the games - 2:45 p.m. ET to accommodate prime time in Europe - isn't ideal for the typical working professional. But there are no doubt thousands of people here in the United States who have taken an afternoon off to head to the local sports bar to watch a game. And the growth of broadband Internet connections has allowed fans to watch games on ESPN360.com while on the job.

Rewind to four years ago, when Greece upset host Portugal for the Euro title. Were the games even televised in the United States? It's hard to remember. But rest assured that few Americans watched streams of the Euro games on their computers.

ESPN reported an average of about 520,000 households tuning into the early round Euro action, an increase of more than 60 percent over the same time period a year ago. That's not a make-the-NFL nervous level of viewership, but it's not terrible for the middle of the day. And it's perhaps more telling that daily visits to ESPNSoccernet.com have topped 1 million, an 82 percent increase over Euro 2004.

It may be more apparent here in the District, where a native son of every nation can be found within a five-mile radius. Certainly, folks living in America's heartland aren't spending their Saturday tuning into a quarterfinal game between Russia and the Netherlands.

This is a slow time of year for American sports. But ABC apparently has enough respect for soccer now that this weekend they will air the Euro 2008 final immediately after the match between United and the Galaxy.

And looking forward, with World Cup 2010 qualifying heating up and the U.S. national team appearing in fine form, networks will probably try to squeeze in whatever soccer coverage they can.

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