By: Twumasi Duah-Mensah
No, we’re not on the same level as a Brazil or England in terms of soccer fandom.
No, we don’t have to be.
(Yes, Christian Pulisic is the next Lionel Messi.)
It may be hard to notice the growing love for soccer in America. It’s almost never recognized as one of the four major sports in the country. In many ways, it’s not exactly the most exciting sport. Some of you reading may not have known what Major League Soccer (MLS) is.
It’s even worse that the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) missed out on the 2018 World Cup in Russia, depriving many, many Americans of seeing their country on the world’s biggest stage.
But even with all of that, the game continues to grow.
According to a Gallup poll, the amount of Americans who say soccer is their favorite sport increased to 7% in 2017, three points up from 4% in 2016. This was even after the USMNT found out that they couldn’t even tie with Trinidad and Tobago’s national team.
Three of the four major sports suffered a decline, with hockey being the exception (increased from 3% to 4%). Baseball fell from being 13% of Americans’ favorite sport to 9%. Basketball went from 12% to 11%, and football went from 39% to 37%.
So even if soccer’s growth achieves just half of what it achieved in 2017, it will still be Americans’ third-favorite sport by 2019. That’s B I G.
This poll doesn’t even account for the fact that your favorite sport might not be the only sport you watch. This means that many fans of basketball, baseball, football, or hockey might be following soccer, as well.
And with the rebirth of local soccer club North Carolina FC, going from a team plagued by mismanagement and a lack of resources to a team with a shiny new downtown stadium in the works, the growth of soccer in our community, state, and country cannot be understated.
If you’re somehow still not convinced of soccer’s impact in the U.S., check out the links to see the Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, Los Angeles FC, FC Cincinnati (who aren’t even an MLS team as of October 9th, 2018), and (my personal favorite) Atlanta United.
Yeah, yeah yeah, we’ve still got a long way to go. But it’s a l o o o o o o n g way away from where we used to be just 30 short years ago…
- The U.S. had been awarded the 1994 World Cup to host by FIFA. One problem, though: hardly anyone cared about soccer, and the U.S. barely had a national team put together.
Then, it started to grow. And grow. And g r o w.
1990—the U.S. qualities for the World Cup for the first time in forty years. 1994—Diana Ross kicks off the World Cup in America with a horrendous penalty kick to cap off her opening ceremony performance. Americans are exposed to the beautiful game en masse.
1996—MLS is born. 1999—The Women’s National Team wins the Women’s World Cup in dramatic fashion on U.S. soil.
2002—the U.S. makes its deepest run—the quarterfinals—in the World Cup in the modern era of American soccer by beating dark-horse favorites Portugal in the group stages and knocking out rival Mexico in the round of 16.
2007—David Beckham comes stateside to play in MLS, and the league booms in popularity.
2010—Landon Donovan saves the United States from crashing out of the group stage of the World Cup in South Africa, and the nation goes insane.
2014—the United States beats rival Ghana (me being a Ghanaian born in the U.S., it felt very, very weird) and draws with superpower Portugal to make it out of the group stage.
2017—erm… let’s not talk about 2017.
And now, with the rise of young starlets like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Matt Miazga (you may know him), Zack Steffen, Tim Weah, and Tyler Adams, the future of U.S. soccer looks very bright.
Our nation is very, very divided right now. Very. It’s sometimes hard to maintain the fortitude to listen to the national anthem or say the Pledge of Allegiance every day without thinking of all the problems that preside in our great nation.
What if we never rise again? What if this is it—the America we love is gone?
In a time where other sports that should be a refuge from division still manage to divide us, soccer is a major opportunity to build something new.
There should no longer be any doubt about soccer being “here.”
The beautiful game has arrived to America the Beautiful. It is here. To stay.