So right now, I'm watching the Barcelona /Inter Milan game. Personally, I would love to watch more soccer, but it's pretty hard to find televised matches in the U.S., and when they are televised, they're often shown at times I either have work or class. When I do get the chance though, I try to watch, especially when Barcelona is playing. For some reason, soccer is still not very popular in the U.S. (hence the lack of televised matches). I think you could definitely argue that it's getting there. In the last few years, I've noticed an increase in the attention sports fans pay to soccer. However, I think that there is one perception that needs to change before soccer can really become popular. (Note: this is my opinion as a casual observer.)
Soccer players are a bunch of pansies: At least this is what it looks like every time I see a match. Every time someone comes near them, they fall to the ground grabbing something on their body like they just got shot. By no means is this true for every soccer player, but many of them take more flops in a match than a white center in the NBA.
Having played and watched soccer, I know for a fact that there is a lot of contact in soccer. I don't want to come off like I'm knocking curling here. There is plenty potential for injury over the course of a soccer match. However, isn't it a wee bit peculiar that when a player goes down, he's only "hurt" for as long as it takes the referee to either make or deny him the call? It's a little hard to take a sport seriously when this is allowed to go on. The NBA had a flopping problem and ended up handing out fines to frequent floppers. In soccer, the issue is still allowed to go on.
Here's what I think the real problem is: Too much reliance on referees. In sports like basketball, we see this a lot as star players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James often blindly charge at the basket late in games counting on referees to bail them out with a foul call. In soccer, we see the same thing, with start players like Cristiano Ronaldo falling down and grabbing for their ankles seemingly every time they touch the ball.
On a side note, in the France/Ireland game that ended with a controversial handball by Thierry Henry, the Irish were so sure that they were going to get the handball called that they stopped playing defense and gave up the game winning goal. If you look at the pictures of the goal, you will see Henry's teammate, William Gallas calmly heading the ball home for the winning goal while the Irish defenders around him are looking away from the goal with arms up to signal the handball. Yes, it was a terrible call and the goal should not have counted. However, players can't just count on the referees to always bail them out. This is true for any sport. Referees are human. They're going to miss calls every once in a while.
So, basically, what it comes down to is that soccer players need to focus on playing the game. The game is beautiful when played correctly. However, when there is constant flopping and pleading for calls, people assume that soccer players are a bunch of pansies. In a place like America, that perception can be fatal to a sport. If it's between playing a sport like football (where they can knock the crap out of people without penalty) or soccer (where it can seem like every time you breath in someone's direction, they go down in pain), most young boys in America will choose football. Ultimately, I think that whether or not the flopping issue is addressed will have a huge effect on whether the sport survives.