It is officially the world’s most popular sport by quite some way, with an estimated following of around 4 billion fans globally. Events like the FIFA World Cup final are viewed by more than a billion people, but in the US they seem to have resisted the allure of the beautiful game. Soccer, it seems, just isn’t the right kind of sport for American audiences.
That is, until fairly recently. Ask any US sports pundit a decade ago whether soccer would ever become the fifth big team sport in the country, and they would have answered with a resounding ‘no’. It’s too slow, went the argument, there are not enough goals and too many draws. It’s not part of the American tradition, but rather a game played by their colonial overlords, and they want nothing to do with it.
More cynical commentators point out that Americans will never be too interested in a sport unless they stand a chance of being world champions, and with soccer they still have much too far to go. But despite all the nay-saying, soccer has been steadily growing in popularity in recent years. So, could it really claim its place as one of the big US sports, or has is already? We examine the evidence.
- Kids love it
One reason why soccer could be a bigger US sport in the future is its popularity among children and younger generations. It’s already one of the most played sports in schools across the country, and it seems that youngsters are bringing their enthusiasm for the game into adulthood. A look at the stats suggests that it was the much-maligned millennial generation that kick-started America’s affection for soccer. Polls have put it as second only to football (the American variety, of course) as that age bracket’s favourite spectator sport. When all ages are taken into account, soccer now beats out hockey as a sport to watch.
- The Latino influence
Soccer may not be so big in the United States, but in Latin America it dominates. As the Latino population of the US continues to rise, so the influence of the various cultures has a more marked effect on the country. One thing that unites most Latin American countries is a love of soccer, and that tradition, along with language and cuisine, is slowly being imported Stateside.
- Famous players, successful teams
Many of the biggest names in soccer, including David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have chosen to spend the tail-ends of their playing careers in US clubs, boosting the profile of the game. Along with some serious investment, these high-profile moves have helped to bring in spectators and drum up enthusiasm. Added to this, global success from the women’s national team in particular has given soccer a boost as a source of national pride.
- You can gamble on it
The fact that soccer is relatively popular in Commonwealth nation Canada may bear this last theory out. You can also gamble on it. In Canada, websites like https://casinopilot.ca are used to find online casinos and make a soccer wager. One thing that many Americans love is gambling, and soccer is fun sport to bet on.
- It’s just not American enough
We have looked at the evidence that suggests a rising popularity, but could this recent trend be nothing more than a temporary fad? Historical evidence would suggest that it’s likely. Traditional American sports are deeply ingrained in the culture and identity of the country. Football, baseball and basketball are all part of what it means to be American. The rituals shared by friends, families and colleagues surrounding Thanksgiving football, the Super Bowl, and March Madness college basketball are unlikely to be replaced by what is a relative newcomer to the sporting calendar.
- The problem with diving
One enormous sticking point for sports fans in the US is the prolific incidence of diving and exaggerating injuries in order to get players on the opposing team penalized. Soccer fans in other countries view diving as at worst a source of frustration and annoyance, but many in the US just can’t get over what they see as straight-up cheating. Additionally, the traditional contact sports in the US often carry very real risks to life and limb, so the sight of healthy players writhing in feigned agony seems not only dishonest but rather childish. Perhaps part of the reason why the women’s game has been more consistently popular is the virtual absence of diving.
- Not enough international success
The US women’s soccer team are the most successful female international side since the first FIFA World Cup Women’s Championship in 1991 and the highest ranked team currently. Sadly, when it comes to this type of team sport, it’s how the men’s team performs that holds the most weight. Although they have qualified for almost every World Cup final since 1990, the US men’s team have rarely troubled the top spots. In 2026, the US will co-host the World Cup along with Canada and Mexico, which is sure to give soccer a boost. Until then, Americans may still struggle to get into a sport where they stand little chance on the international stage.