By Jim Ambrose
In 1994 the United States hosted its first FIFA World Cup. Two years later Major League Soccer in the United States kicked off its first match. Soccer has grown immensely since then and it has become a significant part of many Americans lives. Youth soccer is bigger and better than ever; and every weekend parks and fields are filled with youth soccer players. Parents are dropping their kids off at practice, driving right from work to watch high school and club games. Adult soccer leagues continue to pop up all across the country. But soccer is still perceived as the “other” sport. In large cities and among young people the perception is slowly changing.
So what can we do to further the progression of the sport?
Be a contender in the World Cup
Americans expect to win in every high level sport, why should the world’s biggest sporting event be any different? Having Americans become invested in their nation’s team will go a long way. There are those in the States who dismiss soccer as being nearly, “unwatchable.” Having a team with the skill to win the world’s most prestigious trophy carries the potential to change all of that.
Keep the youth involved in soccer
How do we create a national program capable of winning such a title? Simple, start early and keep participants involved. Millions of kids nationwide play the sport, from inner cities to the suburbs. Yet once they become teenagers, soccer falls by the wayside and the interest shifts to baseball, football and basketball. There’s glory in the ‘beautiful game,’ we just have to embrace it.
Continue to improve the MLS
The MLS has been around since 1993. The League has tried time and time again to become as popular as the other professional sports, but it has struggled. The league sees spikes of interest following the World Cup, but quickly loses ground as time passes. It largely only caters to its small but loyal audience. They need to improve every aspect of the MLS to be able to reach more of a fan base.
You can see the perception of soccer changing from just this last World Cup. The 2014 World Cup in Brazil was bigger than the NBA Final or World Series, and bigger than just about any piece of programming. Thousands joined together and watched the games on huge screens in parks and stadiums across the country. For the first time in a long time, the U.S. Soccer team was on everyone’s minds and even if you didn’t enjoy the sport you were talking about the event. Soccer will continue to grow in the U.S. regardless of the public opinion. So people in the U.S. should stop trying to fight soccer and just embrace it. It is easy to root for a sport on top but it takes real passion to be a soccer fan in the U.S.