As we all know, there has been a significant effort since the 1994 World Cup to truly cement the global game into American sports culture. The term “soccer mom” and kids playing recreation soccer by the thousands burst onto the scene along with hopes that it would grow from the ground up. These efforts in connection with a new professional sports league called Major League Soccer, were given the assignment to drive this cultivation.
As we fast forward to 2021, the US Women’s National Team is the greatest team in the world and the signs of their decline is not visible. The US Men’s National Team has arguably the most talented roster in its existence, but still has the shadow of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup hanging over them. MLS continues to expand the number of franchises in the league as well as building state of the art soccer only stadiums that are packed for every match. The domestic successes are the direct result of hosting the 1994 World Cup and cultivating the game at the grass roots level.
The growth of the American soccer experience is not just due to the domestic success, but the global experience. NBC purchased the rights to be the American home of the English Premier League, brining Manchester City, Man U, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and others into our weekend morning routines. The exposure of the teams, players, fans, venues and style of play became open to anyone who wanted to watch. Fox jumped at the chance to broadcast the German Bundesliga, bringing the same excitement and experience to our TVs. ESPN had brought World Cups and International matches to America before, but now club teams were being broadcast regularly. This growth urged ESPN to use ESPN3 as the home for the Italian Serie A with a few matches on ESPN. As they saw success, they jumped at the chance to purchase broadcast rights for the Bundesliga and the Spanish LaLiga. As we draw near to the start of the 2021-22’ campaign, the 4 premier leagues in the world are at the fingertips of every American.
With all of that said, the ratings for EURO 2020 played this summer towered over the 2016 tournament, which itself, surpassed the 2012 event at that time. The American sports fan has embraced the sport, not just for physical fitness for our youth, but as a true staple of our sports landscape. Names like Ronaldo, Messi, Kane, Salah, Mbappe, Morata and Haaland are viewed as world class superstars, not unknowns. The focus fans in the United States placed on the Champions League Finale, EURO 2020 and the 2021 Copa America show this is a thriving market and product. Yes, the world will say that Americans don’t really know soccer tactics and can’t speak on their level, but just as our interest in the sport has grown, our ability to discuss on your level will meet and surpass your standards.
The next steps for soccer to become a staple is to follow the following steps. The US Men’s National Team needs to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in dominating fashion. Yes, CONCACAF has a little quality, but losing or drawing to the likes of Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Guatemala must stop. No offense to those National teams, but in comparison to size, resources and players like Christian Pulisic succeeding at the highest level, they don’t match up. This is the time for the USMNT to smash down the proverbial wall and make a statement on the International level. The second step is to have every match of the 2026 World Cup filled to the top with Americans. Yes, we want fans from across the globe to travel here, but imagine everyone in the world seeing American soccer fans full of energy for the beautiful game, it would make them proud and irritated at the same time. The third step is to continue the growth of MLS on a global scale, the world thinks it’s a second rate league. The main force behind this is money invested in each club and broadcasting our matches to the world. American players are making significant impacts for their foreign club teams, now we need to showcase our domestic league as well. The final step to the growth of soccer in America is to shutdown the epidemic of players faking injuries. Athletes get hurt and Americans know that (see America’s love of Football), but the trend of faking injuries like they had limbs ripped off is pathetic and off putting.
I’m not saying that soccer will surpass the NFL or College Football, but this summer has confirmed America is here in force for the beautiful game. It’s growth will continue to challenge MLB, NHL and the NBA for merchandise dollars, ticket revenue and viewer ratings on TV and streaming services.
Next time we’ll recap the USWNT’s journey at the Olympics, the USMNT’s run in the Gold Cup and preview the 2021-22’ club season, highlighted by Americans littered across the globe.