Oct. 28, 2010

Oh, it's incredible! You could not write a script like this!”

Those were the magic words from ESPN commentator, Ian Darke, after Landon Donovan slid home the goal that sent the United States into the knockout round. But to certain soccer lovers all over America, it was more important then that. It was the moment that millions of other Americans realized why there was such a fuss made about the beautiful game.

Fast forward to October 26th, and the statistics have proven that soccer is here to stay. According to SoccerAmerica.com, eight Division I schools average over 2,500 fans in attendance, six schools more then in 2009. 35 schools average over 1,000 fans in attendance, eight more schools then last year.

The World Cup is not the only factor for the rise in attendance, although it probably deserves a good amount of credit. In an effort to learn more about the rise in popularity of collegiate soccer, I turned to a man who has devoted his career to making soccer relevant in America, Fox Soccer Channels college play-by-play analyst, Dean Linke.

Linke had not even graduated yet from Ohio State when he first got involved with the sport. A 1989 internship with the US Olympic led him to joining up with the United States Mens national team. Since that internship, Linke has been heavily involved with the soccer. He was a World Cup correspondent for the United States team during the 1990 World Cup in Italy and a Press Officer in California for the 1994 World Cup. He also spent time working with the Womens national team. His love for the game saw him interview some of the greatest American players, including Tony Meola and Tab Ramos, and it was during the 1994 World Cup when Linke realized he had a passion for broadcasting.

Linke currently holds a variety of jobs, but his current one with Fox Soccer Channel brings him to different college locations all over the country to broadcast some of the best games in Mens college soccer. A little over a month ago, Linke and broadcast partner Keith Tabatznik traveled to Ohio to see Tulsa face Akron for a match of the top two schools in the country. It was electric,” Linke said, 1,500 people were there an hour before the game.”

The Zips won 4-0, and from start to finish, the crowd was always involved. Linke saw fans of all ages, including grandparents, jumping, shouting, and cheering for the Zips, but regardless of location, it has been the same story everywhere.

Last night, Fox Soccer Channel was in San Luis Obispo to witness a brilliant match between No. 19 UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly. Each team scored in the first half but a neat dribble and pass from Jake Hustedt set up Chris Gaschen in the first overtime and Cal Poly gave the 8,125 fans in attendance an upset victory over UCSB. Almost as impressive as the game was the amount of people who came out for the game. It was the 13th largest crowd in NCAA history and after Gaschen put the ball past the keeper, the Cal Poly faithful stormed the field.

If you had turned on the game about thirty seconds after the goal, you would have thought it was another week of the No. 1 football team getting beat away from home, but it was just a regular season match in a sport that is quickly gaining attention. Linkes line before signing off from the telecast was spot on. How can you not love college soccer?”

The popularity of college soccer does not solely come down to the World Cup or the quality of matches. Credit must be given to the various athletic departments who, in conjunction with the NSCAA, have united with Fox Soccer Channel to bring these matches to households all over the country. Linke describes the relationship between all of the groups as a true partnership” in which all of the factions are trying to help out one another. The partnership has brought television cameras to some of the best soccer schools in the country like Akron, Maryland, UCSB, and UConn. These four schools also make up the top four teams in the country in terms of attendance.

As for himself, Dean Linke sees his role as a small part in a big machine. Linke is not just a soccer commentator, but a fan and friend of the game. He is quick to defer credit to others but his ability to paint a verbal picture of the beautiful game is a vital component to making a broadcast successful. [Any game] makes for a great environment when you get great crowds and the stands are vibrating,” said Linke, I would call a game every day if they let me.”