Don’t despair my soccer loving friends. Even though the (Major League Soccer) MLS All-Stars suffered a somewhat humiliating loss to AC Roma yesterday in Kansas City, there is much to be happy about if you’re a soccer-lovin’ American. In recent polling by sport scientists, soccer has been voted the second most popular sport amongst 18-24 year olds behind basketball. After attending the USA’s triumphant victory against Panama last weekend in the Gold Cup at Soldier Field in Chicago, I can personally tell you that I observed a lot of young, enthusiastic, and passionate soccer fans who I’d never even dreamed about seeing before. They were happily cheering on their favorite US players dressed in RED, WHITE, AND BLUE!
The MLS is growing! It currently stands at twenty teams and the MLS Commissioner, Don Garber, announced that the league will grow to 24 teams by 2020. In fact, new soccer specific stadiums are being built every year. DC United has been slated to get one a brand new soccer stadium next. How about this? You can order food and drink from a remote control at the Sporting KC (200 million dollar), state-of-the art center. The LA Galaxy, Chicago Fire, Houston Dynamo, and many of the other big teams have ridiculously nice soccer specific stadiums. They are great places to take a match in and feel European. Seattle and Portland fans are known as the most rabid in the MLS and most of their matches sell out. The US National team has specifically requested to play more qualifiers in the NW region because of the great fan support and World Cup atmosphere that it’s providing. Soccer is growing everywhere and in regions where you might not necessarily expect it to.
But, Beckham retired, doesn’t this hurt the MLS? Not necessarily. While David Beckham’s 6 years in the MLS provided recognition and legitimacy to a growing league in need of international talent, the league can still boost the likes of international stars such as, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, Marco Di Vaio, Alessandro Nesta, and Tim Cahill. New York has recently added a second team (Cosmos to join the Red Bulls) that is backed by an alliance with Manchester City. Becks has also expressed serious interest in opening up a franchise in Florida since he had a discounted MLS franchise purchase fee built into this original contract. More importantly, he has a vision to grow the game here in the USA.
Just look to the videogames! People are playing EA Sports’ Fifa Soccer more than Madden. Just ask Calvin Johnson or Chad Ochocinco which videogame they prefer. Many critics are attributing the rise on Fifa videogame purchases/sales to a budding interest in the “beautiful game” that didn’t exist before. Don’t forget about all the yanks playing abroad! Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, and the slew of young talent we have in the German Bundesliga. Former MLS stars are building US Soccer by taking their talents overseas and playing/excelling in some of the best European leagues. They have been good value picks in recent years past but now their stock is rising.
Fans want to watch European Football. This year, NBC paid almost 250 million bucks for the rights to English Premier League games for three seasons and will televise at least six live games a week. You can watch your favorite teams every weekend without having to buy an expensive cable package. Leading up to the start of the European football season, a large amount of teams have decided to bring their squads to the good ol USA for preseason late summer friendlies and tournaments, like the International Champions “Guinness” Cup. This new tournament will feature the likes of Real Madrid, Juventus, Inter Milan, Chelsea, and Everton. The teams will play in select cities and fans can come out to see their favorite players and clubs.
So, don’t fret my friends. Even though the MLS All-Stars couldn’t hang with Roma on that July night, US fans are appreciating soccer more than ever before. Diversity, cultural awareness, and 33 million passionate US fans are helping to stimulate the growth of the game. Americans are following and recognizing international Soccer icons and will be following the USA all the way through the World Cup qualifying. Pretty soon, soccer won’t just be known as a secondary sport that you play in grade school like it was during the early 1990s. It’s a unique community that every coach, player, fan, and citizen can cheer for and get behind because of its beauty and excitement. The sky is the limit!