Half-time and things are looking bleak for the United States as they trail Slovenia 2-0 in their vital FIFA World Cup™ match. The owner of the Lucky Bar feels the need to lift the spirits of 250 supporters crammed into the pub and springs into the action.

Soon Bruce Springsteen's "Born In the USA" is blaring out before the owner grabs a microphone to exhort his customers: "Hey, wait, it's not over." The ESPN television match commentator is in agreement. "If they can score one goal, Slovenia will be a little bit shaky".

Sam Spencer, a 21-year-old student who has played football since he could walk, is refusing to give up hope. "If North Korea can score one goal against Brazil, we can score two goals against Slovenia," Spencer says.

Two minutes later, Spencer's optimism is repaid as the Americans score, and the bar breaks out chant in unison: "U-S-A! U-S-A!." By the time the 90 minutes are up, the US have clawed their way back to 2-2 and a share of the spoils.

In the capital of a country where baseball, basketball and American football remain king, the FIFA World Cup is granting exposure to a sport which is often viewed as a poor relation despite the fact that it remains the biggest sport in terms of participation in America. "Soccer in the US is not big but there is a culture. It's growing because all the kids play soccer," says Bill Klotzbucher.

Yet according to Spencer, the USA will be a major power eventually. "It's still a kid sport because all kids play soccer . . . We will wake-up. We dominate Olympics and many other sports. Our day will come."

If the comments of a soldier watching the USA-England match at an army base in Afghanistan last week are anything to go by, that day might be some way off. "I didn't know there was a World Cup of football," the American said, evidently confusing his domestic sport of gridiron with the festival of soccer watched by billions across the globe every four years.

The day after the match, which ended in a hard-fought draw, the New York Post trumpeted the ironic headline: "US wins 1-1."

The Lucky Bar's Scottish manager Paul Lusty, a devoted football fan, is not surprised by American sports fans' enthusiasm for the nation's FIFA World Cup team. "They just support the country whatever the sport," Lusty says. "They have a hard time understanding the rules, like you for baseball."

US wins 1-1.

Headline in the New York Post after the USA's draw with England

Yet since the 1994 FIFA World Cup, a phenomenally successful event which played to sold out stadia across the country, football in the United States has gone from strength to strength. "I think the World Cup in '94 was my first major exposure to international soccer," says Sujeet Rao."I was 12 at the time, and a few of the games were played in my home town in Michigan, including the now-famous USA-Switzerland game, where Eric Wynalda scored from an amazing free kick.

"I was studying abroad in Spain during the 2002 World Cup, and that's when I started to realize how big a deal the World Cup was around the world," he adds.

In recent years, the domestic US league has also enjoyed a spurt of attention through the arrival of English superstar David Beckham and Mexico's Cuauhtemoc Blanco. This year for example, the Major League Soccer side Seattle Sounders has enjoyed an average attendance of 36,000 fans per game, figures which would be the envy of many clubs in established European leagues.

"We're a country of 300 million people, all the children and latino-Americans play football. We already dominate the Olympic Games and we're not bad at other sports," says Spencer. "By around 2020 or 2025, we'll win the World Cup."