When you think of the biggest sports in America, the “Big 4” come to mind: football, baseball, basketball, and hockey. But when you look at the “Big 4” for the world, it is a much different list: soccer, tennis, cricket, and rugby. While most people in America have at least heard of soccer, it doesn’t even crack the top 5 with a lot of the time Nascar taking the fifth most popular ‘sport’. This is quickly changing, though.
Domestic soccer started in 1968 with the North American Soccer League having 64 unique teams play in the league through their 16 year existence. But more recently the professional league has been Major League Soccer (MLS), which started in 1996 with 10 teams. Over those 20 years, the league has grown to 20 teams with 4 more teams being added within the next 5 years. However, whenever you talk to someone about MLS they take it as a joke. Being a soccer fan I have heard more often than not “I only watch soccer during the World Cup” which means every 4 years. They get sucked into the world-wide hype when it is the biggest sporting event going on and then they stop caring until the next one.The latest World Cup held in Brazil in 2014 was the largest one yet for popularity in the US. 26.5 million people watched Germany’s extra-time win over Argentina which blew the previous viewership out of the water. This past summer, the Women’s World Cup took place in Canada. The USWNT (US Women’s National Team) made it to the final to play against Japan—which I had the great pleasure of attending . That game had the most viewership for a US match, men’s or women’s, of all time having 25.4 million people in the US watch that game.
With every World Cup there is always a boom in MLS popularity. With 14 of the 23 players on the 2014 World Cup roster playing in the MLS, this year had the largest increase of fans in recent memory. And this is an exciting time for US soccer with a lot of our US team stars being younger players. One of the biggest stars from this World Cup Deandre Yedlin, is only 22-years old who is currently playing on loan for Sunderland in the English Premier League, arguably the best league in the world.
Even locally in the MLS big name stars are being attracted to come play in the US. With soccer legends Frank Lampard, Kaka, Steven Gerrard, and David Villa all making the jump across the pond within the past year; and rising stars like Sebastian Giovinco, Fabian Castillo, and Gyasi Zardes getting looked at world-wide all playing here in our growing league. Many big name players have expressed interest in coming to play in America, and within the next 10 years the MLS is projected to be competing for one of the most popular sports in Americaand have the type of talent that you see in Europe.
So instead of only getting soccer fever once every couple years, go support your local MLS team. If there is a team near you look around and I’m sure you can find a team that will suit your interest. With the playoffs winding down now is the time to see what MLS has the best to offer. The MLS Conference Finals start on November 22 with the MLS Cup Final being played on December 6th.
It is about time that America caught the same fever that has captivated the rest of the world for years.