The State of Soccer in the USA

MLS Talking Points

The U.S is not a traditional soccer hotbed and in many ways, the development of the game over here has been unusual compared to other countries.

In Europe, soccer was always a very working-class pursuit, bringing people together and growing through the rivalry and shared passion as much as anything. In much the same way as American college sports give participants a sense of identity, soccer did the same for the towns and cities of Europe throughout the 20th century.

The U.S. came to soccer late and despite the hugely exciting but ultimately ill-fated North American Soccer League, it struggled to gain traction in a market clouded by so many other sports. The formation of the Major League Soccer and stars such as Kaka, David Beckham and England’s all-time leading scorer Wayne Rooney coming over certainly helped it come to people’s attention, but two other factors have seen soccer become even more popular and both would have European’s scratching their heads.

The EA Sports computer game franchise FIFA is popular in Europe and Asia because of soccer, but over here a Guardian article explains how it has helped make the game more popular. That was further helped by having a chapter of the game’s single-player mode ‘The Journey’ set in the U.S and featuring U.S. stars.

FIFA has been a global phenomenon for almost twenty years now, with each year’s release differing marginally from the last but still being bought in huge numbers. ExpatBets details how the FIFA franchise started in 1993 and has now seen 27 different variants across a host of consoles. However, it is the most recent games that have captured the U.S. market with 34% of FIFA players becoming big pro soccer fans after playing the video game, explaining not only it’s increased popularity in the U.S., but also the rise of the game in the country.

The other telling factor in the rise of the sport is the success of the women’s team, known as the USNWT (United States National Women’s Team). They’ve done as much for the women’s game globally as they have for the sport domestically and the likes of Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe are household names around the world.

That again is in sharp contrast to the state of the game in other countries. The USNWT are fighting for equal pay according to Time, with the men’s team still earning more than their female counterparts. When you consider how they’ve revolutionized the women’s game as well as transcending the traditional soccer gender gap, it’s understandable why they want equal pay. In terms of success and exposure, they’ve perhaps done more for soccer than any other generation.

What next for the MLS? The obvious shout is going to be relegation and promotion between the MLS and other soccer leagues. One of soccer’s most romantic and attractive features in Europe is how the little team can triumph through hard work and good management, but that’s not the case in the closed shop of the MLS. An article by the Independent suggests that FIFA, the governing body for soccer across the world, has been called in to help make it a reality.

Should that ever happen, then perhaps soccer will become the sport of choice in some smaller states and towns which are hoping to raise their profile and find a way by which they can through the all-encompassing power of the soccer ball.