Home Opinion Soccer is Finally Kicking Off in America

Soccer is Finally Kicking Off in America

by Thomas Neira

The 24th season of Major League Soccer (MLS) kicked off earlier this month on Saturday, March 2, marking the biggest season yet for an ever-growing competition in a country where the sport was at one point thought to be unmarketable.

MLS is a men’s professional soccer league made up of American and Canadian teams that began its first season in 1996, in response to the success of the 1994 FIFA World Cup held in the United States. With the introduction of new expansion team FC Cincinnati, this current MLS season sees its total number of teams rise to 24, the most in its history.

mls logo.jpg

Major League Soccer began its 24th season on Saturday, March 2.
Photo courtesy of Major League Soccer

I’ve been playing soccer since I was in elementary school, and I’ve been a fan of professional soccer for just as long. While growing up in a town that focused mainly on ideal American sports like football and baseball, I was often teased for liking such a foreign and strange sport like soccer that was still struggling to find its footing in a nation as complicated as the U.S. In recent years, soccer in America has experienced a rapid growth in popularity, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down anytime soon.

The MLS captured global attention in 2007 when English soccer legend David Beckham signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy, making a lot of money for the league as other teams in the league rushed to make their own big-name signings to compete, both on the pitch with wins and off the pitch in relevance.

As the world’s interest in American soccer continues to grow, so is domestic interest in the sport overseas. Demand for young American prospects by big European clubs is becoming stronger. There is no American player more talked about right now than Christian Pulisic, who announced that he will be joining English club Chelsea FC this summer for $73 million – making him the most expensive American soccer player of all time by a considerable margin.


Christian Pulisic is the most expensive American player of all time.
Photo courtesy of Matthew Stockman via Getty Images

Match attendance and ticket sales for MLS games are also at an all-time high. The 2018 MLS Cup final between Atlanta United and the Portland Timbers was played in front of a record attendance of 73,019 fans in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. To put this into perspective, this year’s Super Bowl was played in front of a crowd of 70,081 spectators in the exact same stadium less than two months later.

I’ve never fully understood why soccer has always been so ostracized in the U.S. Perhaps it’s because of that classic American fear of things that are seemingly foreign. “True Americans” find safety in sports that have been well-established in the U.S. for nearly a century now. But how safe can a sport like football really be when all the players do is ram into each other over and over again until one concusses the other?

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Atlanta United FC won its first MLS Cup in December 2018, in front of a record-breaking crowd.
Photo courtesy of Atlanta United

Let me remind you that baseball requires the use of a bat, an object that criminals and “The Walking Dead” fans alike would recognize as a weapon.

I just don’t understand why all sports can’t coexist within the same country. Let me kick a soccer ball in peace, and I’ll let you run around some bases, slam dunk a basketball or severely injure yourself trying to catch a flying football while being interrupted by commercial breaks every two minutes.

There’s no reason to fear soccer becoming America’s most popular sport because it’s going to happen. Don’t worry, because it’s an amazing sport. People have nicknamed it “the beautiful game” for a reason.

If you think American sports will continue to be more relevant than soccer, then I ask you this: What does it say about America if its own sports are attracting smaller crowds than MLS games? Perhaps America’s favorite pastime has passed its time.

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