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A Case Study: Is American ‘Soccer’ on the Rise?

October 03, 2015

- Grant Whittington

When America hosted the 1994 World Cup finals, this was supposed to trigger the widespread popularisation of the game throughout states nationwide. While the tournament was a huge success and saw full houses across the country,  Major League Soccer has failed to take off in the way that many expected. Every new global tournament brings renewed expectation, although it remains unclear whether American soccer is finally on an upward curve.

Is American Soccer on the Rise?

The last World Cup seemed to mark a watershed for the U.S. national team, as America fought ferociously to qualify from a tough group and impressed everyone with their knockout performances. After beating Ghana, dominating Portugal during a 2-2 draw and narrowly losing to eventual champions Germany, the Americans surprisingly progressed to the Second Round where they performed admirably as underdogs during a heroic 2-1 defeat. Incredibly, the game against Portugal was watched by 24.7million impassioned spectators on ESPN; as fans finally began to develop an unconditional love for this most polarising of sports.

We have been here before of course, and not just in the wake of the 1994 World Cup. Similar tournaments have also bred such expectation, with the 2002 tournament providing a relevant case in point. An experienced American side reached the quarter-finals of this tournament, narrowly losing to Germany in a game that they dominated. Despite this, Major League Soccer has failed to grow in the way that fans would like, although this may be about to change over the course of the next few years.

Viewership and Star Players: The Case for the Defence

To begin with, the number of fans watching the U.S. national team has risen exponentially in the last decade. An estimated 16 million viewers enjoyed the classic game with Belgium during the last World Cup, for example, in comparison with the 15.5 million who tuned into the prestigious NBA finals. Similarly, the development of a new New York franchise and the recruitment of leading players such as Frank Lampard, David Villa, and Steven Gerrard  – who has made his way to Los Angeles – have also embellished the league.

These factors seem to suggest that U.S. football and the MLS may be about to achieve their full potential, as the sport itself joins the pantheon of adopted national games such as basketball, baseball, and American football. This will still take a little time however, but there is no doubt that the game has considerably momentum at present.

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