On the Bench: Soccer won’t be the next NFL, but it’s on the rise

Baseball has historically been known as America’s pastime. It is played devotedly by American youth and supported by a large fan base. In recent years however, declining youth involvement in baseball programs paved the path for American football to take the lead in capturing America’s attention. Audiences tune in for weekly games, updates and interviews. The wide coverage of players on and off the field creates a sense of connection between the players and the fans, something soccer has yet to accomplish here in the United States. Although soccer started small here in the US, statistics of youth involvement as well as increased fan turnout show that soccer could be on the rise.

One of the main disadvantages soccer has with becoming a major sport in the US is the perception that soccer is a “foreign sport.” Because soccer, formally known as fútball in non-American settings, originated from Europe and has garnered widespread support throughout South America and Africa, the idea of soccer seems alien to many Americans.

It also does not help that only a select few of the star players of the sport are American. Only four goals were scored by players from Major League Soccer in the last World Cup while the rest were scored by popular players from England, Germany, and other major countries who compete for the title. Until more support for American players can produce athletes who represent the US in the way that foreign players do, our attention will continue to be diverted overseas, while American football holds the spotlight.

It is hard for soccer to compete for the Americans’ attention when the people they cheer for on football and baseball teams are people from their hometown, the city they went to college, and the location where they settled down. This sense of identity that fans create with teams and players is often based off of geographical location and detracts from soccer’s popularity.

In recent years, however, the increase in youth involvement in soccer programs shows a promising future for soccer in the US. Only basketball leads soccer in its numbers of youth participation. The support began with the World Cup of 1994 which was held in the US. Despite being a minor sport in America at the time, it was a huge success, and marked a big step in establishing soccers’ identity as a sport.  Americans came to the World Cup to support the American team in unprecedented numbers. Average numbers of NBA and NHL viewings haven’t seen the support that people showed for the World Cup. Even though the hype eventually died down, it created a stir that let people know that soccer was here to stay.

While being a foreign idea disadvantages the popularity of soccer in many ways, it also has its benefits. Support for the sport has grown as the result of globalization, the process by which businesses or other organizations develop international influence and start operating on an international scale. The global nature of soccer makes it a sport that everyone can relate to. Whether you live in the United States, France or Mexico, soccer has the ability to be a connecting factor across cultural boundaries.

The future of soccer is promising. While it’s probably true that it will never replace football as an American favorite, it’s successes in the past years pave a road or growth and prosperity. It may not be number one, but it is here to stay.

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