What comes to your mind when you think of sports in the United States? In order of popularity, there’s football; The most famous sport in our country. Baseball; Considered to be America’s pastime. Basketball; Home to the greatest athletes in the world. Lastly, there is soccer; One of the fastest-growing sports in our country. How much longer can we expect this list to be accurate, and is it possible that soccer can become the new leader? Surprisingly, the answer is yes, and it might happen sooner than you think.
The popularity of American football has been decreasing for years. There have been numerous studies showing the extent of brain trauma that playing football can cause, and this information has many parents feeling reluctant in supporting their children when it comes to youth football. In fact, since 2008, youth football has seen a 7% decline in participation, while youth soccer experienced a 19% increase. Accompany the health risk factors of American football with the fact that NFL players are only paid the fourth highest of any professional league in this country, and you may leave a lot of young potential football athletes wondering if the long-term risk is worth the short-term success.
Over the past decade, baseball and basketball have both been relatively idle when it comes to increase/decrease in youth participation. To me, this comes as no surprise. Both of these sports offer very easy access to young children. Minimal equipment is required to play, and it’s not that difficult to find a basketball hoop to shoot around or a small area to throw a baseball with friends or family. Soccer may not be as easy to start with as those two sports, but advocates for youth soccer have made an asserted effort to organize more leagues and create easier access to soccer complexes for children and young adults.
In 226 countries around the world, soccer is the number one sport. The amount of global soccer fans is estimated to be around 3.5 billion people, which exceeds the second place sport of cricket by over 1 billion. Soccer is a worldwide game that unites citizens of countries like no other sport can. Don’t believe me? Watch a World Cup game with a group of people from a competing country. The passion and love of the game are unrivaled.
The United States has always been a melting pot for various cultures and nationalities. An estimated 1 million people immigrate to the USA each year. There is no way to measure how many of them are soccer fans, but considering the global prevalence, it’s safe to assume that this will only boost the popularity in the country. Soccer fans immigrating into our country, who then start a family, can create many new future fans of the game.
The American professional soccer league, known as Major League Soccer, has also experienced extreme growth since its inaugural season in 1996. The MLS experienced a very rocky start, and it wasn’t until almost eight years in when the league really gathered it’s footing. MLS started with just ten franchises, but by the 2004 season, the league more than doubled to 24 teams. They have already announced plans to expand to 28 clubs by 2022, and eventually to 30 at a later date. Having professional soccer in more markets will undoubtedly help increase the interest and overall growth of the sport.
The last bit of ammunition for an American soccer boom is the current state of the U.S. soccer national teams. The men’s national team originated back in the 1930s. Unfortunately, when compared to the top teams in the world, USA men’s soccer has been a struggle. The highest FIFA ranking (world rankings of every national team) the club has attained was 4th in 2006. On the contrary, the lowest was 36th in 2014. The World Cup, which is soccer’s biggest tournament in the world, has never been won by the United States men’s team. Our best finish was 3rd in 1930. In recent years, the club has achieved some success in smaller tournaments like the Gold Cup and Copa America. After a disappointing 2018 World Cup where the men’s national team failed to qualify, they are looking to have a strong comeback and hopefully make a statement in 2022 in Qatar.
The USA women’s national team may not have as long of a history as their male counterparts, but what they’ve managed to accomplish since their formation in 1985 has been nothing short of sensational. The national team managed to medal in every World Cup and Olympic tournament from 1991 to 2015. Although there had been numerous instances of women playing in the World Cup since 1970, it wasn’t until 1991 that FIFA created an official World Cup tournament. Since that time, there have been eight World Cups on the women’s side, and the United States has astonishingly taken home the trophy in four of them. Currently, the women are by far the most talented and decorated team in the world and are coming off back-to-back World Cup titles. Couple their talent with their unique and outgoing personalities, and this current version of the women’s U.S. national team is a fun one to watch, on and off the pitch.
There is no doubt that soccer has a long road ahead to become this country’s most popular sport. There’s a good chance that it may not ever happen. But, taking all the data and trends mentioned in this article, there is also a very good chance that we could see that day. The hype of soccer in this country is the highest that I have seen in my lifetime. There was a time when I was a young boy who played organized soccer for my school. Unfortunately, when my parents and I moved, the future schools I attended did not offer a soccer program. It’s unreasonable to think that every school in our country could offer it, but I sincerely hope that this sport can build on the recent success of our national teams and what appears to be an overall higher interest in the world’s greatest sport.