Soccer has endured a history of upheavals in the United States, with millions around the globe questioning the sport’s propensity to establish itself and thrive in a nation that traditionally favors American football, basketball, baseball, and ice hockey.
However, there are positive changes in soccer’s reception in the country.
One heartwarming statistic shows that millions of Americans consider themselves soccer fans, and over 13 million people in the country played soccer at least once in 2022.1
Add to that the increasing viewership of MLS Cup Finals in the US, points to the indisputable fact that soccer is growing in the US.
Nevertheless, some still doubt the future of soccer in the US
We will consider the current soccer scape in the country and the prospect the sport holds.
Therefore, we will consider the future of soccer in the US, carefully examining its potentials and challenges.
History of Soccer in the U.S.
The history of soccer in the United States dates back to the 1850s when British immigrants brought the sport into the virgin land.
However, the sport has struggled to put down its roots nationwide despite several attempts to reach the heights of baseball, football, and basketball.
The most significant endeavor to establish the sport came in 1968 when some investors founded the North American Soccer League. Sadly, financial problems and low attendance figures forced the league to fold in 1985.
Soccer has slowly but gradually found its way to become one of the most popular sports in the United States, but it has some way to go before we can compare it to the likes of football and basketball.
Now, we will consider the sport’s current status in the country.
Current State of Soccer in the US
Soccer might not be a time-honored American sport, but we have witnessed its steady growth in the country over the past few decades.
It has become one of the country’s fastest-growing sports such that the United States Men’s National Team ranks among the best national teams in North America, and the MLS earns praise as one of the world’s rapidly developing leagues.
Soccer fanship in the United States has soared up to 49% of America’s sports fans.2
These figures show the game has sneaked upwards to nestle among the country’s most popular sports.
As such, it has overtaken ice hockey in the ‘Big Four’ American sports.
Contextually, over two million people played recreational ice hockey countrywide at least once in 2021.3
However, about 12.6 million people in the country played soccer at least once that same year.4
Moreover, about 28 million people watched the United States play Portugal in the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup.5
Soccer undoubtedly has a long way to go before it can compete with American football, basketball, and baseball in nationwide popularity.
Nevertheless, recent stats prove that it is on the right course to become one of the top three sports in the country.
Some factors have contributed to soccer’s advancements in the United States, including the increasing popularity of Major League Soccer (MLS), American representation in professional European football, and the success of the U.S. national teams.
We will consider how these factors heighten the sport’s status in the country in the following sections.
The Impact of Major League Soccer (MLS)
Soccer was a niche sport with a relatively small following before the MLS’s inception in 1996.
However, the sport has become more popular among Americans of all ages as the league keeps growing and gaining more exposure.
The creation of 19 expansion teams in 27 years also confirms soccer’s development in the United States.
Also the arrival of top European stars to the league some of who have got on to be the best in the MLS, lately Lionel Messi has attracted attention to soccer in the country.
Advancing MLS spectator attendance and viewership numbers suggest that soccer has an exciting future in the United States.
In 2022, MLS viewership increased by 16% over the previous year.6
While we await the 2023 viewership statistics, we can anticipate more numbers thanks to Lionel Messi’s inclusion, arguably the sport’s all-time greatest and most influential player.
European imports, synonymous with high-profile transfers, have improved MLS quality and have consistently skyrocketed soccer viewership numbers in America.
We recall David Beckham’s recruitment into LA Galaxy in 2007 as a ‘milepost in MLS history.’ Nevertheless, iconic signings have followed up since then, most recently, Lionel Messi.7
The Argentine’s first match for Inter Miami is reportedly the most-watched soccer game in United States television history.8
Having the greatest player of all time joining America’s MLS is a highly significant win for soccer in the country.9
His presence has drawn more fans, media attention, league partnerships, and sponsorship deals, and has brought global exposure to the MLS.10
Top players will likely primarily consider America as a viable destination to showcase their talents and continue playing at the top level.
More high-quality signings like Messi’s former teammates, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, will contribute to a substantial increase in soccer’s profile in the United States.
Doubtlessly, youth development plays a crucial role in every sport.
There are now more youth soccer players in the United States than ever, and the MLS has substantially contributed to that development.
The league has provided high-quality training programs to develop prospects.
More so, MLS stadiums and soccer environments in the United States are friendly as the franchise works to entice kids and families.
The Implication of American Representation In European Football
Europe has earned praise for being the regional stronghold of competitive top-flight football. The world’s most outstanding soccer players come from Europe or play for its biggest teams.
More so, talents from other regions want to test and showcase their skills in Europe.
Some prominent American names like team captain Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, and Tyler Adams play in Europe and have helped to elevate the sport’s profile back home.
More American representation on the biggest stage will only continue to increase soccer’s popularity in the country.
Influence of International Soccer
The U.S. national teams’ successes have magnified soccer’s profile within the country.
The USMNT are seven-time CONCACAF Gold Cup champions, two-time CONCACAF Nations League champions, and finished second in the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup.
The USWNT is one of the sport’s most successful women’s teams, with four FIFA Women’s World Cups, four Olympic gold medals, and nine CONCACAF W Gold Cup championships.
The U.S. Men’s National Team used to struggle to compete on the continental and global stage due to a lack of tactical intelligence in the coaching staff and little technical ability among its players.
However, the team has enjoyed significant successes in recent years.
Regular exposure to other playing styles has contributed to these accomplishments.
Over the years, international imports into Major League Soccer have brought remarkable playing styles, helping to raise gameplay levels and providing American players with the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s best players.
Many American youth players also imitate international soccer superstars’ techniques and training routines.
International soccer influence has yielded positive results in soccer’s growth in the U.S., raising gameplay levels, providing learning opportunities, and creating a diverse soccer culture.
The Future of Soccer in the U.S.: Potentials and Challenges
Soccer has a bright future in the U.S., with several growth potentials.
The most notable chance for an upshot is the 2026 FIFA World Cup, which the United States will host with Canada and Mexico.
Soccer’s most important tournament presents a huge opportunity to showcase the sport and bring in new American fans.
Moreover, there are massive financial benefits as the World Cup will generate billions in revenue and create several job opportunities, aiding the country’s economy.
Social media platforms have also been crucial to soccer’s popularity in the United States.
The rise of platforms like Twitter and Instagram has helped fans to connect with their favorite teams in an impossible way.
The result is a more engaged and passionate fan base, which has translated to an exponential growth of the sport’s development and popularity within the country.
Sadly, soccer in the US faces opposition from the country’s long history with football and basketball.
Parents in many regions encourage their kids to pursue a career in these sports over soccer.
However, soccer can become the next big thing in a few years if we can switch the tides.
As such, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) can work on providing quality soccer programs or facilities to kids in these regions.
The pay-to-play system in club soccer that mandates young ones to pay to participate in youth soccer programs is a monkey wrench in the works.
Equal and high-level investments in youth players, coaching staff, and facilities can place soccer in a much better place in the following years.
While the soccer sphere in America has some noteworthy policies in certain aspects, including respect and chaos control, work permits, and spending limits, it still struggles with diversity and inclusion issues.
The system has a lot to do with creating a more growth-friendly environment to encourage talented young players and an inclusive atmosphere for coaches and fans of all backgrounds.
However, this may not be possible without a cooperative effort from stakeholders.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Will soccer grow in the U.S.A.?
Americans do not traditionally favor soccer, but the sport continues to grow in the country. 2026 may see soccer become a top-three sport as the United States joins Canada and Mexico to host the FIFA Men’s World Cup.
Will soccer become the biggest sport in America?
Soccer could become a major sport shortly thanks to a spurring influence from its status as a global sport.
Why isn’t soccer bigger in the U.S.?
The primary reason for soccer’s unpopular status in the United States is the American culture. Americans are not among the world’s best soccer players, which is a discouraging factor for a nation that loves being the best at everything. Other reasons may include unsatisfactory marketing outputs and British expansion in 1863.
What is the biggest sport in the U.S.A.?
American football is America’s biggest sport, with millions of fans and ground-breaking viewership numbers. The sport boasts an estimated 139.1 million fans compared to soccer’s 97.4 million.
The future of soccer in the US looks very promising.
Lionel Messi’s arrival at MLS and the upcoming 2026 World Cup will significantly elevate the sport’s acceptance and popularity.
His arrival in the league perhaps intensified the flames of the MLS vs EPL debate, but definitely pushed soccer in the US to new heights.
However, the American soccer system needs more investment in youth development programs and coaching education.
Media coverage for men’s and women’s soccer events can also help boost nationwide interest.
References & Notes
- Number of participants in outdoor soccer in the United States from 2011 to 2022. Statista
- Soccer has overtaken ice hockey to become the fourth most popular sport in the US. Daily Mail
- Number of ice hockey participants in the United States from 2010 to 2021. Statista
- Hoops slam dunk: Basketball adds to long streak as favorite major sport to play. Sports Business Journal
- World Cup Ratings Show America Loves Big Events…And Yes, Soccer Too. Bleacher Report
- 2022 MLS Season Viewership on ABC and ESPN Networks Up 16 Percent. ESPN Press Room
- EXCLUSIVE: David Beckham transfer to LA Galaxy “defined MLS history” and transform US soccer. Mirror
- Lionel Messi’s effect on Inter Miami is already huge. Here are the numbers to prove it. Miami Herald
- Explained: How Lionel Messi is making MLS ‘the league of choice’ for superstars around the world. Miami Herald
- Lionel Messi brings Inter Miami more Instagram followers than any NFL, MLB team. Yahoo Sports