Fan Georgeanna Chacon watches the World Cup match between Ghana and the U.S. at a pub in Pasadena, CaliforniaREUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Association football is truly the world game, played everywhere from the hottest deserts to the coldest tundra. The final of the Brazil World Cup 2014 will be watched by at least 1 billion people. Now it seems football's final frontier has been breached: the United States is going football crazy.

The match between the USA and Ghana was watched by up to 11 million ESPN viewers, a record for the channel, as well as 5 million on the Spanish-language channel Univision. Thanks to a favourable kick-off time there are hopes tonight's vital match against Portugal (KO 11pm BST) could be watched by more people than last Sunday's NBA final decider between San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat.

USA midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, who plays for Nantes in France, says football's appeal is growing. "I woke up today this morning and looked on Instagram and Twitter and saw the posts and videos of people reacting at bars, pubs and out in Chicago at the event they had there. It's awesome that we're part of this movement of growing soccer in the States. So it's really cool, and I'm sure everybody feeds off this energy and it's really good to see."

On the surface there's no reason why football shouldn't be the most popular sport in the USA, which has so many immigrants from Latin America, Europe and Africa. There are even claims Native Americans played a version of football called Pasuckuakohowog on pitches a mile long.

David Beckham makes his way through a crowd while visiting the Kendall Soccer Park in MiamiReuters

Yet for a number of reasons – including the dominance of other sports such as baseball and NFL, and the resistance of TV networks to screen any sporting event where there are no breaks for 45 minutes – football has never really taken off. Attempts to popularise the game, including the creation of the first North American Soccer League in the 1970s, failed partly because they were artificially conceived rather than evolving from the grassroots.

Despite the US beating England at the 1950 World Cup Finals in Brazil – still regarded as one of the biggest sporting shocks of all time – and the US hosting the 1994 Finals, the game never caught the public imagination in the States. Everyone from David Letterman to The Simpsons has parodied its supposed dullness; unlike Albert Camus, novelists Philip Roth and David Foster Wallace never used football as an inspiration for their writing.

Yet now football is the third most played team sport in the US and the game is increasingly popular among schoolchildren. Top players ply their trade in the Premier League and David Beckham is hoping to build a new stadium in Miami in a bid to launch a Major League Soccer (MLS) club.

Premier League champions Manchester City aim to capitalise on this growing interest in 2015, with the launch of New York City FC, a $100m joint venture with the New York Yankees. The team announced the signing of top Spanish striker David Villa last week.

The English might sneer at the thought of the US fielding a decent team but should they beat Portugal – no easy matter, with Ronaldo among the opposition – the Stars and Stripes will qualify from the group stage for the third time in four tournaments, which puts England to shame. It seems football is finally taking root in that most resistant of nations. Just don't call it "soccer", dude.

Watch the launch video for New York City FC on YouTube, below: