By Jake M.
From Sprinting to tackling, Soccer is the number one sport in the world and is rising rapidly in popularity in the United States in recent years.The World Cup only comes once every 4 years and the host nation is selected by the Federation Internationale de Football Association or FIFA as the governing body for international soccer. Only the 1942 and 1946 World cups were called off due to the second World War. In 1930, Uruguay hosted and won the first World Cup while the United States finished third and to this day that is the best finish ever for a US team. As popularity in the sport rose globally, it fluctuates in the US depending on the success of the team. While it is still in its early stages, America has become a team that should be taken seriously by most nations.
While most people think of Landon Donovan when they hear people talking about US Soccer, he was not part of the original surge during the mid 1990s which featured key players like John Harkes, Alexi Lalas and Taylor Twellman. The second major step took place in 1994 with the creation of Major League Soccer and the United States first and only time to have hosted the World Cup. In 2002, which was hosted by dual nations of South Korea and Japan, Landon Donovan had a breakout performance helping the US qualify for the quarterfinals and effectively saved MLS from going broke. Since then, the MLS has been expanded to 20 teams with 3 additional teams in Los Angeles, Minnesota and Atlanta which were added to the league in 2015. Both Atlanta and Minnesota will have their inaugural season in 2017 and Los Angeles will begin competition in 2018 bringing the total number of teams to 23. The Commissioner of MLS Don Garber plans to have a total of 28 teams by 2024. While US Soccer is in a huge expansion stage at the moment, the lack of homegrown recruitment and TV coverage has held back on popularity growth at the international level.
When it comes to the US Women’s Team, most people think of Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain and rightfully so because they were the pioneers for female soccer during the 1990s and the early 2000s. Now the soccer program has evolved into an international powerhouse filled with talent that is unrivaled. They are the most decorated nation appearing in all 7 World Cups and winning 3. The US Women’s team is tied with Germany for most World Cup titles with three. Including the first ever Women’s World Cup in 1991, then in 1999 and its most recent one in 2015. The US Women’s Team has never finished worse than 3rd place and they’ve also gone on to win 4 Olympic gold medals in 6 appearances. They hit a huge disappointment in the 2016 Rio Olympics when they finished with a loss in the quarterfinals, handing them their worst performance in Olympic History. Even though the women’s team has had all this success, the players on their current roster have peaked. Also, with many players so close to retirement, they will most likely need a new group of young women to takeover in the foreseeable future. Given the fact that both Abby Wambach and Heather O’Reillly have retired, many avid fans would agree with my insight. The good news is that women’s soccer in America is so deep rooted that we can rely on homegrown talent to usher in a new era of players, which is why they perform so much better than their male counterparts.
Even though our women’s program is superb abroad, its domestic appeal is down. There are three main reasons why we see this drastic contrast. First, there has been a total of three different installments of professional leagues, two of which folded and the current league played their inaugural season in 2013. Second, the National Women’s Soccer League or NWSL consists of only ten teams, making it extremely difficult to create a broad fan base nationally. Finally the lack of media coverage and sponsorships has prevented a market from forming. It is ultimately up to the fans to spread the love of the game or else the league will meet the same fate as the first two installments.
In conclusion, I think Soccer is an incredible sport with a deep rooted history. The game has millions of supporters worldwide. As an American soccer fan I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the growth of MLS and look forward to seeing the impact this progress will have on the next generation of American youth. It’s also important for young girls to get more involved in the game here in the US as well as abroad because this type of grassroots movement is the only way to bring gender equality to the sport. In the end it’s up to the fans to put US Soccer on the map.