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How the LA Galaxy are riding a World Cup ratings wave

Los Angeles Galaxy's Omar Gonzalez (C-#4) celebrates with teammates after scoring the first goal against Italian football side Juventus at the Guinness International Champions Cup at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles on August 3, 2013. The LA Galaxy defeated Juventus 3-1. Gonzalez is playing on the U.S. Men's National Team in the 2014 World Cup. ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. plays Belgium Tuesday in the first knockout round in the World Cup. 

As The Associated Press reports, the two haven't faced off in a World Cup since the first tournament in 1930, a 3-0 win by the Americans. If the U.S. advances, it would be the first time they made the quarterfinals since 2002. 

The game comes as the sport of soccer enjoys a new wave of attention in the U.S. AP reports:

A lot more people are following now. The U.S. averaged more than 18 million viewers on ESPN and Spanish-language Univision for its three first-round games, and viewing parties are scheduled for Tuesday ranging from Solider Field in Chicago to Veteran's Park in Redondo Beach, California.

"The country is paying attention in a way that it's never done before, and we have a chance to make some history," U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said.

Chris Klein, president of the Galaxy, one of  two professional soccer teams in Los Angeles, joined KPCC's Steve Julian to talk about how the team is taking advantage of all that attention. (The following interview has been slightly edited. You can listen to the full interview above.)

SJ: Chris, first of all, any surprise the U.S. team has gone this far, and how far do you think it can go?

CK: I don't know if surprise is the right word, but we definitely knew coming in, having the group that we had, that it was going to be very, very difficult — I mean, having really two of the best teams in the world, the best player in the world, and probably the best African team in our group, in Ghana, that it was going to be very difficult. But I don't think anyone's really surprised that we are where we are. And once you get to this stage, I mean, we're definitely not the favorite to win even our next game or the World Cup, but you never know.

SJ: How are you taking advantage of all the attention that's being paid to the World Cup around the world?

CK: Well, we've been living for this, since our league started. I mean, our league was founded off the heels of the 1994 World Cup, which was in the U.S. Coming into this World Cup, we started to see momentum in our league that we haven't seen in a long, long time. And through the World Cup, it's caught on, and you're seeing general sports fans that have taken to this. And we just want to be involved and lead the conversation here in L.A. So we're doing things like watch parties. We have one of our players, Omar Gonzalez, who's on the team, so being able to tie him in, and just really lead the conversation in the city of L.A.

SJ: Now when you say 'lead the conversation,' what are the issues you're trying to bring focus or attention to?

CK: Our sport, and what a great thing that it is, and how it's similar to the World Cup, and we have a lot of the players that are playing in this World Cup that play in our league. So how can we be involved in that? Because there are enough soccer fans in this country to make the sport wildly successful here. You're seeing this in the World Cup with the TV ratings that the U.S. has had. The U.S. has more major league soccer plays playing on its team than it's ever had. How can we identify with that, and how can we keep fans interested beyond the end of the World Cup?

SJ: Have you seen an increase in attendance over the past few years?

CK: Of course, we continue to see an increase in our attendance. We see an increase in our TV ratings. For us it's a little bit odd, because when David Beckham came in 2007, we saw a tremendous spike, but the Galaxy have always averaged over 20,000 fans a game. We haven't had as many home games this year, but our expectation is we'll do that and more this year. So attendance is steadily rising. I think the exposure the team gets locally and the league gets nationally is rising as well.

SJ: Is your strategy now to reach out to adults playing soccer or to the next generation of soccer players?

CK: It's everyone. I mean, there are 50 million soccer fans in this country, and you see a tremendous amount of people that are playing the game here in the city of L.A., that are playing across the country. I think the parents that grew up playing the game are now having kids, and so we're seeing the generational shift that can make a sport successful. So our target demographic, the 18-34 [year-olds], is where you get most of the people that are coming to our game. We also have a large segment of the immigrant population — second generation Latinos that are coming here. So it's a melting pot for sure, but it's all the people that are watching this World Cup.

SJ: I have to ask, how did you take the news when Landon Donovan wasn't selected?

CK: It was difficult for us. We always knew it was a possibility. Nothing is for sure. But with knowing Landon, we were personally disappointed for him. As a fan, I was disappointed not to see him represent our country in the World Cup. I think people have gotten so used to that. But the way he's handled it, and how he's moved on from it, I think has helped everyone.

SJ: How do you think they'll fare against Belgium today?

CK: You know, Belgium has probably the best young roster in this World Cup, so we will be at a disadvantage, but I like our chances better than against Germany, and I think the U.S. has what it takes to go through.