Is Soccer the Next Big Thing?

Soccer has always been popular throughout the world, except for the United States. Recently, that has been changing.

If there was one sport that could unite the world for their love of sports, it would be association football, better known in the U.S. and Canada as soccer. With billions of people from every corner of the world that identify as fans of the game, the sheer popularity of soccer cannot be overstated. Although, there is one country on the map that has always been the exception.

Eaglecrest junior Isabelle Fry and Mullen senior Elizabeth McDermott contest a ball during an April 2022 game. (Marcus Turner)

The United States have consistently been an outlier in the soccer world. While the sport is treated with the same ferocity and passion as religion in some countries, the Americans tend to approach soccer with reluctance. Competitions such as the English Premier League and Spanish La Liga regularly sell out every single match on their schedule, while American leagues have historically struggled to simply exist.

“When I think of America, I just think of football, basketball, and things like that. Those have kind of just really taken the center stage,” Eaglecrest junior and soccer player Praise Akpokiere said. “For soccer it’s always been different.”

But that’s changing. Soccer is slowly but surely becoming one of America’s biggest sports. There has been an increase with more Americans tuning in to watch matches both at home and abroad. What’s behind the sudden change of heart for American soccer?

According to the U.S. Soccer Federation, the change truly began in 1990, the same year that the USA men’s team qualified for its first World Cup in 40 years. It was extrapolated further in 1994, when the U.S. hosted the World Cup for the first time.  There is no surprise to many soccer fans that the sport’s popularity lives and dies by the World Cup, which up until recently was the only way for Americans to watch the highest level of soccer.

Junior Praise Akpokiere approaches the ball. (Photo: Marcus Turner)

Which leads to another major reason why soccer has risen in recent years; the growth of 24/7 sports coverage both on television and especially the Internet. Unlike the most popular sports in the U.S., the highest caliber of soccer play can’t be found in America. For that, you have to turn your attention to nations such as England, Spain, Germany, and Brazil, which is an option only available to the masses in recent decades. There’s a reason that the 1994 World Cup, hosted in the United States, is a turning point in soccer’s popularity. For the first time for most Americans, they had the chance to watch the best soccer in the world, in the stadiums instead of on their television sets.

The internet has made access to top-tier competitions such as the UEFA Champions League the norm. TV networks such as CBS, ESPN, and FOX have adjusted accordingly, with coverage of foreign competitions growing exponentially. All of this has exposed American kids to the beauty of the sport, and in turn encouraged them to try to learn how to play the game and maybe make it to the professional level.

Junior Praise Akpokiere approaches the ball. (Marcus Turner)

And the presence of high-level soccer has already proven its worth in the women’s game. In sharp contrast to men’s soccer, the United States was quick to adopt women’s soccer when it was rising to popularity in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and it became a pioneer in the women’s game. The national team has gone on to collect four Women’s World Cup titles and Olympic gold medals each, the most successful country in either competition.

It is not surprising that the success soccer has faced allowed women’s sport to become popular in the U.S. despite the struggles of men’s soccer.

“On the men’s side in the United States, a lot more guys want to play football, and don’t see soccer as that competitive,” Eaglecrest senior and soccer player Micala Boex said. “Women’s soccer hasn’t had those difficulties.”

The impact of high-level talent in soccer is clear, and it won’t be long before the men’s game gets that talent, too.

It’s clear that soccer is on the rise, and in a few years, it may join sports like football and basketball to be one of the most popular sports in the United States. After that, the sky’s the limit for the success of American soccer.