Game Day

WHO: Richmond Kickers vs. Charleston Battery

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Blackbaud Stadium

Tickets: 971-4625

Poll

Has the World Cup action made you any more likely to go to a Battery match? Find this story at postandcourier.com/battery to vote.

They began to gather in the parking lot outside Blackbaud Stadium two hours before kickoff Sunday afternoon.

By the time the World Cup match between the United States and Portugal got underway early Sunday evening, the Three Lions Pub was filled to capacity and Charleston Battery officials were turning fans away.

Soccer fever had officially arrived in the Lowcountry.

It's a wave of enthusiasm for soccer that the Charleston Battery is trying to capitalize on as their regular season moves into the crucial months of July and August.

The Battery will take on their long-time USL Pro rival Richmond on Friday at Blackbaud Stadium at 7:30 p.m.

The interest in soccer and the U.S. national team reached its zenith last weekend as nearly 25 million viewers tuned in to watch the U.S. tie Portugal, 2-2. It was a watershed moment for soccer in the United States as more viewers watched the World Cup match than the World Series or the NBA Finals. The 24.3 million figure is not too far off what college football's national championship game between Florida State and Auburn attracted back in January (25.7 million).

While the NFL remains the 800-pound gorilla in the room when it comes to television audiences, soccer is starting to make inroads onto the American landscape.

"When Tony Bakker (Battery majority owner) started the Charleston Battery 22 years ago, one of his goals was to grow the sport of soccer in the United States and in the Charleston area," Charleston Battery president Andrew Bell said Thursday. "It's fantastic that the mainstream public and the media is catching on. We've had sellout crowds at the Three Lions Pub for all the U.S. games. It's been fantastic to see the support the United States has gotten this year. The television numbers speak for themselves."

Since the start of the World Cup, Bell has been in hot demand around the state, appearing on multiple radio and television programs promoting soccer and the Battery.

"It's been pretty hectic, but it's worth it when you consider the exposure the Charleston Battery is getting and the sport of soccer," Bell said.

Even the players have noticed an increase in interest around town.

"You go downtown and you can see the fans wearing the U.S. colors," said veteran Battery defender John Wilson. "There's no question that interest in soccer has come a long way. It started with (Major League Soccer) and has continued to grow. This year's World Cup is only going to help that momentum. The further the U.S. goes in the knockout phase, the more people will watch, and that's a good thing for the sport."

And for the Charleston Battery.

"The exposure has been fantastic, but this isn't about capitalizing on the World Cup," Bell said. "We're going to continue to do what we've done in the past, which is try and develop players for Major League Soccer and work on our academy players. ... Hopefully, we can be a small part of the United States' success in soccer."