As a respected figure on Fox Sports' coverage of the Bundesliga in the USA, few people are better placed to assess the changing face of the game in both countries than Fernando Fiore.
bundesliga.com caught up with the amicable Argentina native during the Florida Cup for his thoughts on the relationship between the Bundesliga and the USA, and the growing impact of football across the country.
bundesliga.com: Fernando Fiore, how is the Bundesliga perceived in the USA?
Fernando Fiore: Here in the USA, aside from having the MLS, we need to look at the good things other leagues have. It's good to look at the European leagues such as the Bundesliga and see what they're doing in terms of organisation and their star players. I think the Bundesliga is making good inroads in the USA. Now Fox Sports and Fox Deportes are broadcasting the Bundesliga matches here, which allows people to watch the games - and not just the top teams such as Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund. They can also see Wolfsburg, who are here at the Florida Cup, and Bayer Leverkusen, who are well known in part through 'Chicharito'. It's possible that other teams could come here for future editions, such as Hertha Berlin or RB Leipzig. All of that contributes to people getting to know more and more about the Bundesliga here in the USA.
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You saw Wolfsburg at the Florida Cup. What do you think their season so far?
Fiore: Well, the numbers don't lie and unfortunately when you look at the table, Wolfsburg aren't in the top places. They're not in the European qualifying places, which is obviously something that every club is aiming for. The first half of this season hasn't been what the fans were expecting, but you always come out fighting after a good training camp, and this trip here in the USA could help them. There's a good climate, they're at a good event. They've just signed some good players, such as Yunus Malli, which could be a great addition to the team if he can settle, so obviously they'll be hoping to leave behind the relegation places in the second half of the season and look to climb towards the European spots. But that depends on how the team comes together after the winter break.
bundesliga.com: And what about football in general? How is it viewed?
Fiore: Football in the USA has a very long history and sometimes people don't remember that the country participated at the first World Cups. But as a game it wasn't able to establish itself, to put down roots and obviously as it's a country of basketball, American football, baseball, those sports were much more popular over the years. After the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, football disappeared from sight a bit here because there wasn't a league until the NASL was founded. But then something happened that I don't think could happen anywhere else – the league disbanded despite having had brilliant players such as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto. And so it was a step back in the USA.
After the 1994 World Cup, the sport began to grow again in the USA and a professional league, the MLS, was founded. I think football has gone from strength to strength in the years since then. Perhaps it doesn't have a tradition like in other leagues, but there are good players in the USA and they're moving to Europe and are making their mark.
bundesliga.com: Bayer 04 Leverkusen and the VfL Wolfsburg reserve team both participated at the Florida Cup. What was your overall impression of the tournament?
Fiore: It's a tournament that's becoming ever more important because increasing numbers of teams are coming over. This season big teams are participating. It's a pleasure for me to be here; there are great facilities and to see the teams that have come from all over. It's a great opportunity to show the public how to organise a good event. This Florida Cup certainly gives the impression [of being a good event]. I've met people from Georgia and North Carolina who have come all the way here to see the Bundesliga teams, who they normally only see on television. Of course they're not proper league games, but it's a tournament you can enjoy. The climate's great, it's easy to get to the stadiums and it's very well organised. So the Florida Cup will continue to grow.