Is there an exact moment someone could pinpoint and say, “There. That’s when soccer truly became a part of mainstream sports culture in the United States”?
It’s hard to say if there’s any one moment. Soccer has had its ups and downs in the United States. There were lows, such as the MLS losing $250 million dollars in the league’s first five years, that make many fans think that soccer has only become popular more recently. But that would disregard some of the early highs that the sport had experienced in the US as well.
These highs are numerous. The United States hosting the World Cup in 1994 was met with over 3 million fans in attendance. The Women’s National Soccer Team winning the FIFA World Cup in 1991 and 1999 also stand out, not to mention the gold medals they won in the Olympics. There was also when David Beckham joined the LA Galaxy in 2007, bringing a prominent European star into the MLS and giving the league not only star athlete recognition, but a new level of prestige and excitement.
It’s hard to argue that, if nothing else, there’s a foundation for the popularity of soccer in the US. Data would agree – as of 2011, some polls have pointed to soccer being the fourth-most popular sport in the US. It’s overtaken racing, hockey, tennis, and more.
Seeing why soccer is so popular is easy. Kids play the game young, and there’s so many different levels of competition and excitement that getting swept up in the culture is easy. The success of the MLS has also had a profound impact on the popularity of the sport in the US. Attending an MLS game went from borderline niche to common and exciting. Team support groups made up the most passionate fans add a flare of excitement in the stands, while the on-field product has become more engaging and interesting to spectators – both diehard and casual alike.
Consider the Phoenix Rising for example: a newly-rebranded soccer team in Phoenix, the team has amassed some incredibly popular overseas and local players to bring excitement onto the field. The team engages with its fanbase as well and keeps them energized before, during, and after the game. The new coat of paint on the franchise (which was formally known as the Arizona United Soccer Club) will bring a lot to look forward to for fans of the sport. And not only will fans get to enjoy the games in person, they’ll get to watch all games live and on demand on Cox.
Phoenix is just one of many cities having a soccer fanbase activated by the recent addition of a professional team. The league the Rising plays in, the USL, is becoming increasingly more popular – the addition of top athletes and competitive matches have no doubt helped. Still though, the question remains: when exactly did soccer hit its stride in the US? More importantly, where’s this popularity taking the soccer culture?
It’s hard to answer the first question because there continues to be more instances of soccer growing. As for the second question, that may be answered by considering how much soccer continues to rise in popularity. Soccer’s popularity has yet to plateau, and that means the best days of the sport in the US are still to come. Just ask the fans in Phoenix, who are thrilled to have a team of their own.