Soccer in the USA: Beginning to establish itself, but at a relatively slow pace

Soccer is a popular sport around the world, but appears to be less popular in the USA than in most other countries. It is estimated however that Soccer has been the most popular recreational sport for both boys and girls in America for the past twenty-five years. Professional soccer is less popular, but it’s following is growing all the time.

Soccer in the USA is attended by less people than Baseball, Basketball, American Football, and Ice Hockey. Major League Soccer (MLS) was only formed in 1996, whereas the major leagues for the other sports have been established since the first half of the last century. Even so, the MLS is the twelfth most attended premier soccer league in the world.

With the likes of superstars such as the Columbian Juan Pablo Angel playing in New York, England’s David Beckham in Los Angeles, in 2007, along with the recently-retired Thierry Henry having a go at the MLS attendances and interest continue to reach new heights.

The national team play to full houses around the States, and the sport is increasing in popularity due to a number of factors. As the generation of kids who played soccer in their youth grows up, they are becoming the new supporters of the game. The success of both the men’s and women’s national teams and the good organisation of the MLS are all helping to raise the profile and the status of the sport.

Soccer has enjoyed a chequered history in the States. The first game played under Football Association (FA) rules took place between the universities of Princeton and Rutgers in 1869. This was a twenty-five a side game, but was officially soccer as it is known today.

Many regional leagues were formed and soccer drifted along for a number of years without really taking off. Interestingly the sport was still called football in the USA and in 1913 the United States Football Association was formed. The word soccer did not appear in the title until 1945 when it was added before the word football. This remained the governing body’s name until 1974 when the word football was dropped for good.

The North American Soccer League ran from 1968 until 1984, with its heyday being in the 1970s when world famous stars such as Pele, George Best and Franz Beckenbauer playing for the New York Cosmos who were the flagship side.

Outdoor professional soccer faded away at that point, but indoor soccer leagues remained popular throughout the eighties and early nineties. The Major Indoor Soccer League still exists today and has eight teams.

The profile of soccer in the States was raised again in 2004 when the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup was held in North America. The relative success of that tournament together with the USA women’s team winning the world cup in 199 and 2003, and the good performance of the men’s national team at the 2002 World Cup, all contributed to the rise of the sport in the American public’s consciousness.

Today the USA women’s team is ranked second in the world, and the men’s team are currently nineteenth, although they have spent time in the top ten.

There are still a number of soccer leagues in the US but the MLS is the premier league amongst them. It currently boasts twelve American sides and one Canadian. There are plans for the league to grow to eighteen teams within the next five years.

MLS matches are shown live on US television but they face competition from Mexican and English Premier League football which is also shown live. There are five national networks almost entirely devoted to soccer, the most famous of which being the Fox Soccer channel which runs twenty-four hours a day.

The 2006 FIFA world cup final between France and Italy was shown in English and Spanish across the States and attracted 16.9 million viewers. This equates to the average number of viewers for the 2005 World Series of Major League Baseball.

Soccer is establishing itself in the United States but its progress continues to be relatively slow. Possible reasons include the proliferation of other sports, the fact that other sports were established long before soccer, the fact that there are not enough goals, and the fact that there are too many draws.


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