Arsenal visit New York for the very first time this week - and our USA editor Kevin Mooney says they will be greeted by an ecstatic fanbase in the Big Apple...
It has been an amazing few months for Arsenal supporters in the USA. It began with Arsenal's triumph in the FA Cup and continued into the World Cup where we were not only able to cheer for a number of our own players, but we were also treated by some wonderful performances by Team USA.
How times have changed. Gone are the days when the United States was – perhaps a bit unfairly - perceived as a cultural backwater when it came to the Beautiful Game. From flailing professional leagues to unspectacular performances on the international level – we didn't even refer to the game by the "correct" name.
"Now the same country that failed to qualify for nine consecutive World Cups now sits five spots above England in the Fifa rankings"
But now the USA, the same country that failed to qualify for nine consecutive World Cups, sits five spots above England in the FIFA men's rankings – and just one below Italy. And the women's team? They are ranked No. 1 in the world.
And the fans have taken notice.
This year's impressive performances from Team USA in Brazil once again saw TV ratings soar to new heights in America. Despite the disappointment of losing to Belgium in the Round of 16, US fans remained fixed to their televisions until the end. Viewership of this summer's tournament doubled that of the 2006 World Cup and quadrupled from 2002.
It wasn't just on television. From coast to coast, fans filled bars and pubs from the first kickoff of the World Cup to the final whistle. And just like in all of the "big" footballing nations, Americans gathered to watch their games on big screens in parks and plazas in cities around the country.
Since the USA hosted the tournament in 1994, the World Cup has brought fans in America out of the shadows. Major League Soccer emerged from the aftermath of that that World Cup and unlike previous attempts to establish a sustainable professional league, MLS has expanded and has been growing in popularity ever since – for fans and players alike. Just ask Thierry Henry.
"But for Arsenal fans in North America, this week will dwarf all of the summer's excitement and passion"
But for Arsenal fans in North America, this week will dwarf all of the summer's excitement and passion. For these supporters, watching Arsenal usually requires rolling out of bed at dawn to watch a match on television or maybe at a pub with fellow supporters. Watching an Arsenal match in person requires long flights, vacation time and a considerable amount of disposable income.
This week, Arsenal are making the trip to see us. Saturday's friendly against the New York Red Bulls will mark the Arsenal first team's first appearance on American soil since 1989. And more than just the game, there will be a number of special events for fans and players and staff to meet and get to know one another.
As the week rolls on, we'll talk about some of the special events, meet some of those fans and see what New York City has to offer.
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