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Donovan's chest may help U.S. soccer exposure

SEOUL (Reuters) - United States coach Bruce Arena hopes their entry into the quarter-finals -- not to mention the occasional display of bare flesh -- would boost the popularity of soccer back home.

The team's upset World Cup victory over Mexico earlier this week drew robust U.S. television audiences, despite the small-hours timing of the broadcasts and the usual indifference of Americans more interested in baseball and American football.

"I'm hopeful," Arena told reporters, when asked about the positive impact the team's stellar performance in the World Cup may have on the game in the United States.

"(Midfielder) Landon (Donovan) has been taking his shirt off after goals. It seems to be working," Arena said jokingly, drawing a roar of laughter from reporters.

Most recently, an elated Donovan slid on his knees and took off his shirt as he celebrated a goal against Mexico on Monday when the United States won 2-0 to reach the quarter-finals.

The Disney-owned sports cable channel ESPN averaged nearly three million viewers for the game, more than triple the audience averaged during 14 previous World Cup broadcasts, according to Nieslen Media Research Inc.

But while the figures suggest soccer might be catching on with U.S. viewers, they pale in comparison to ratings routinely garnered for American football.

For example, ESPN's sister broadcast network, ABC, averaged nearly 17 million viewers last season for its marquee "Monday Night Football" programmes.

It remains to be seen whether U.S. excitement over its team's success will fade once the World Cup is over or translate into bigger ratings for Major League Soccer competition at home.

On Friday, the United States take on European powerhouse Germany, the three-times winners.

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