As baseball settles into its place as the game of older generations and the NFL finds itself entangled in a PR nightmare, Americans are on the hunt for a new game to sink their teeth into. The rest of the world’s feverish love for soccer has yet to find its place in the American psyche, but stateside fandom is on the rise.
The world’s most popular sport was on full display last summer as the 2014 FIFA World Cup had its best U.S. reception in history. Major League Soccer, North America’s most prominent league, has expanded into new markets across the United States such as New York and Orlando.
The latest launches have been some of the most successful in MLS history, bringing unprecedented amounts of new fans and appealing to top-tier international players.
Soccer’s popularity boom isn’t solely due to the MLS expansion teams, however. Smaller leagues such as the North American Soccer League added two teams in 2014 and will be adding a third this year. The United Soccer League will add 13 teams this year alone, bringing their grand total to 24. Many of these new teams have hopes to one day join the MLS and further expand the fan base of the popular game.
The marketplace has also been responding to the expansions very favorably. While not every team has flourished, the USL has averaged its highest attendance in years. While it’s been difficult for teams in Dayton and Charlotte, which both moved down to amateur status after this season, U.S. Soccer officials are confident the marketplace is on the rise as a whole.
Football still reigns supreme but soccer is definitely giving the game a run for its money. Youth leagues for soccer are much less expensive to join and parents looking to ensure the safety of their children would be more likely to sign them up for a sport with fewer head on collisions. The United States victory in the Women’s World Cup will definitely give the game a local boost.
It’s a slow progression, but soccer’s takeover of mainstream America may be closer than you think.