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July 23, 2017

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The early winner of the World Cup 2014 is Major League Soccer

LOS ANGELES -- There may have been broken hearts and shattered dreams across the United States on Tuesday, but MLS promoters say unprecedented enthusiasm for the national team is evidence that Major League Soccer has come of age.

In the MLS offices in New York, all eyes were on Brazil, where Team USA weathered a 90-minute assault by a powerful Belgium to lose 2-1 in extra time at the World Cup, sending the Americans home.

On the same day, league officials celebrated in Orlando, Florida, where attacking midfielder Kaka, who in 2002 helped Brazil win a fifth World Cup, signed a contract with expansion MLS club Orlando City to become one of the biggest names in the league.

Both events add to the growing evidence that soccer has finally secured more than just a foothold in the United States, and that the anti-soccer fatalism that followed the collapse of the North American Soccer League in 1984 has withered.

In Brazil, coach Jurgen Klinsmann's USA side impressively managed to go through from the so-called "Group of Death" featuring Germany, Portugal and Ghana, a feat many observers described as all but impossible.

"We proved to the world we are a soccer nation!" MLS Commissioner Don Garber said on Twitter minutes after the USA-Belgium clash.

'A league of choice'

Millions of Americans have been glued to the action in Brazil: an impressive 14 million watched Germany beat USA last Thursday.

Because it was mid-week, the game also drew a record 1.7 million online viewers — even more than American football's Super Bowl, traditionally the biggest sporting event in the United States.

With interest reaching fever pitch, corporate sponsors have lined up behind the team.

What thrills Garber even more is that Klinsmann stacked his starting lineups with an average of six MLS players for each World Cup game.

"We need to be a league of choice for the top players in the world, and that starts with being the league of choice for top American players," Garber said.

U.S. stars Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey recently returned to play on American soil after successful European club ventures.

MLS has already earned a strong foreign contingent, including French superstar Thierry Henry, who joined the New York Red Bulls in 2010.

Spain's all-time leading goalscorer David Villa and former Real Madrid and Milan star Kaka have signed respectively with New York City FC and Orlando, two expansion teams set for their debuts in 2015.

MLS, created in 1996 on the heels of the successful U.S. hosting of the World Cup, is no longer seen as the poor cousin to top sports leagues like NFL football, Major League Baseball and NBA basketball.

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