I am, and have been most of my life, what some American sports writers refer to as a "soccernista."

That is to say, one of those "so-called" Americans who, despite growing up in the land of baseball and apple pie, loves soccer and is happy to admit it.

I fell in love with the old Cleveland Force at a young age, played the game as a kid, rooted for the United States men's national team when World Cup was here in 1994, celebrated when the U.S. women won in 1999 and have been a season-ticket holder for the Columbus Crew for most of the last decade.

According to some, that admission disqualifies me from being a "red-blooded American."

Some yahoos might even want to deport me.

In the eyes of soccer haters, the game was invented by Karl Marx and spread by communists as way to deflect attention from all things American!

"Real Americans" like Ann Coulter say so, so it's true, right?

Right. And franchises like FC Barcelona and Real Madrid have net worths of more than $3 billion each because they have communist sympathies.

Can we please dispense with calling soccer un-American?

If you don't like draws, fine.

You know what I don't like? A sport with a 162-game season where you don't have to be athletic and games can run three or four hours every night.

To me, baseball is boring.

Soccer is fascinating.

There I said it.

Anyone calling for my deportation isn't paying attention -- or is denying the facts.

Because the fact is I'm not alone.

According to Nielsen ratings company, the U.S.-Portugal game June 22 drew about 24.7 million viewers between ESPN and Spanish-language Univision.

Keep in mind, that number doesn't even include the numbers from streaming video apps.

It also doesn't include the huge numbers of people gathered in places like Grant Park in Chicago to watch with thousands of other fans.

Celebration videos after U.S. goals from such gatherings have sprung up all over YouTube and look well, remarkably like the rest of the world.

All you need to do is switch the red, white and blue outfits for any other national teams' colors and it's kind of hard to tell the difference.

Ratings were down slightly for the U.S.-Germany game June 26 to about 14 million.

However, keep in mind, that's 14 million watching a soccer game at noon on a Thursday.

Maybe that note the U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann wrote asking employers to excuse their workers during the game worked.

By a much less scientific method, U.S. fans also have shown their love of the game in Brazil.

More than 200,000 tickets were purchased in the U.S., which is more than any other nation save the hosts.

Estimates of the U.S. opener vs. Ghana had the number at about 20,000 in the stands and thousands more in the area around Natal where the game took place.

Once again, only the yellow-clad, football crazy Brazilians outnumbered the U.S. fans.

One of the coolest things I've seen out of Brazil is a huge parade of U.S. fans marching to the stadium in Natal. It's almost as if the U.S. fans shut down the town.

But still, there are some Americans who seem to have shut their collective consciences off after the NBA Finals ended.

To them I say this: They'll be plenty of time to discuss where LeBron's going to end up later.

The old, worn out argument over whether soccer will "make it" in America should be over.

To soccer haters, "making it" seems to be their nightmare: Soccer overtaking football as America's more popular sport.

That's not happening, nor do I really want it to. Just because I love futbol doesn't mean I hate football.

However, if "making it" means that soccer can carve out a place in the sometimes overtly hostile American sports landscape, the job is done.

The World Cup ratings speak for themselves.

Huge amounts of money are being spent to bring English Premier League games to both cable and broadcast television.

Even Major League Soccer -- the league which Frank Deford once said wouldn't last more than few years -- is thriving and growing. What started as an eight-team league in 1996 will expand to 22 teams by 2017.

Like it or not -- and allegedly a lot of people still don't -- soccer is here to stay in America.

So, do me a favor, soccer haters, and keep quiet until the World Cup is over.

Email: mleonard@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9442

Facebook: MLeonardRPC