Soccer — excuse me, football — is the world’s most popular sport. With its modern origins stemming back to mid-19th Century England, football is now played in more than 200 countries worldwide.
One of those countries, of course, is the United States. We are one of the few countries to call it “soccer,” but soccer is just a contraction of the game’s proper name, association football.
Whatever the case, the sport has grown in popularity monumentally over the last twenty years or so. We even hosted the 1994 FIFA World Cup, which then led to the formation of a new professional league: Major League Soccer.
Its humble beginnings saw just ten teams in the league, but we currently sit at 19 teams. On December 1st, two of those teams will face off for the right to call themselves MLS Cup Champions: The Los Angeles Galaxy and the Houston Dynamo.
This is a rematch of last year’s final, in which Los Angeles emerged with a 1-0 victory to claim their third MLS title. The cup will be broadcast live on ESPN, the nation’s biggest sports television network.
And yet somehow, the league continues to fly under the radar. The crowds at the games are always great, but the viewership at home is unusually low. How is this possible?
After all, this is the pinnacle of football in the United States. Some of our top current players like Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey got their starts in MLS before making a move to Europe, while Los Angeles’ Landon Donovan has been one of the league’s elite talents since moving back from Europe.
Additionally, MLS has attracted the attention of some of the world’s greatest players, even if they are not the same players they once were. David Beckham made headlines when he signed a big-money deal with the Galaxy in 2007 after an illustrious career with Manchester United, Real Madrid, and the England national team.
Former Barcelona stars Thierry Henry and Rafael Márquez ply their trades for the New York Red Bulls, while Republic of Ireland captain Robbie Keane joins Donovan and Beckham in Los Angeles.
Yet even with the mixture of top international talent, some of America’s best players, and a whole host of bright youngsters like Brek Shea and CJ Sapong, the casual football fan in the States tends to pass over MLS in favor of the top European leagues.
Granted, these leagues do get extensive coverage in the United States, with ESPN and FOX Soccer broadcasting multiple Premier League games every week, not to mention the UEFA Champions League which features the best clubs from across the continent.
So in many ways, MLS is less popular because we’re being saturated with so much other top international footballing action that the domestic picture tends to get pushed into the background.
But of course, it’s the fans that make any sports team. And MLS is no different, as they feature some of the most passionate fan bases in all of professional sports. Topping that list is the madhouse that is Seattle Sounders FC.
The Sounders play their home matches at CenturyLink Field, also home to the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. The field is known for being the loudest in the NFL, where the 67,000-strong crowd wreaks havoc on the opposing team.
While the Sounders have a seating configuration that typically only seats 38,500, the constantly-packed house sports many of the same fans that the Seahawks get: loud, crazy, and passionate about their home team.
And of course, for the big games, all 67,000 seats can be made available. For a recent match against hated rivals Portland, which Seattle won 3-0, the sold-out “rave green” stadium was rocking all night as their team stormed to an easy victory.
The whole point here is that Major League Soccer deserves far more popularity than it currently gets. These are some of the best athletes in the world, playing right here in the United States, where the fans support their team all the way.
Watch the MLS Cup Final (December 1st, 4:30 PM EST, ESPN). Take in the world’s greatest sport being played in the world’s greatest country. And when all is said and done, keep involved in what’s happening around the league. The landscape is ever-changing, and you don’t want to miss a thing.