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Soccer in the United States Continues to Grow

One year ago today the United States exorcised their World Cup demons when John Brooks rose, not just from relative obscurity to a household name, but over several in the Ghanian defense to head home a Graham Zusi corner and give the U.S.MNT their first win over Ghana in three World Cup tries.

The goal completely changed the outlook of the United States’ World Cup. Gone was conversation of “how will the U.S. escape from the “Group of Death” without Landon Donovan” to “my god we beat Ghana and we really have a chance at this thing.” And it led to great videos like this one.

Of course it also brought up that other conversation. That conversation that comes up every four years and is usually had by people in the media that aren’t actually qualified to have that conversation. It’s that question that people in the media love asking during the World Cup, “will soccer ever make it America?”

Forgive me for bringing this up during a non-World Cup year but I’m here to give you not an opinion, but a definitive answer and then when the old boring afraid of change media brings this question up again during #RussiaOrWhereeverTheHellTheyllMoveItTo2018 comes around you can reference this post for the simple answer.

Get ready for it and maybe sit down if you have to, here we go.

Not only will soccer make it in America but it already has, well before the US-Ghana game in 2014.

If you’re a soccer fan you already knew this. The problem is this question only gets debated by the mainstream media every four years, and they shoot it down by using a bunch of wrong and ridiculous arguments, only none of them are actually smart enough to refute them. Not surprisingly, the loudest anti-soccer people are often the loudest pro-baseball people and baseball purists, people who are notoriously against change and are now terrified that soccer is a far more popular sport than baseball amongst the country’s youth.

The problem the media has with dealing with this issue is none of them can ever get the question right. For some reason when someone asks “will soccer ever become big in America” the people answering the question always hear “will MLS ever overtake the NFL.” They never spend a few minutes saying “yea people are watching the World Cup but football will always rain king in this country,” and “this is America, we play sports where we use our hands.” Conversation over.

If you’re now expecting me to go in depth about how wrong they are with those hot takes you won’t find it here. They’re 100 percent right that soccer, more specifically the MLS, will never overtake the NFL in this country, but that’s not the point of the argument. They think that by asking if soccer will be big you’re asking will soccer overtake football. Soccer’s goal isn’t to overtake football, its goal is to co-exist with the NFL.

And co-existing is exactly what it’s done. I spent an entire summer last year arguing with people about how they’re looking at this argument all wrong.

The argument isn’t about the MLS. The MLS will never ever overtake the NFL in a million years. It will never become anything close to the NFL. What’s made the MLS as successful as it has been is also what will hold the MLS back from ever becoming successful on the global stage. But what the MLS has done is carve out a niche.

While it certainly lacks a compelling product on the field, the MLS has created a tremendous game-day experience. MLS fans have embraced European traditions such as fan groups, fan sections, the scarves, the constant singing, while also taking some very American customs such as tailgating in the parking lot before games. For a country that was founded on being a melting pot of different cultures, how is anything else more American?

But again, you can’t answer this question by measuring the popularity of the MLS. That’s not the sign that soccer has arrived. The MLS has its niche group of fans, but that number is only a small percentage of the actual number of soccer fans in America.

Soccer has arrived because the number of soccer fans and coverage is growing, not for the MLS but for all the foreign leagues. America now has more access to European soccer then most of Europe does. Instead of being a fan of the New England Revolution, there are fans in Boston who are simply fans of Liverpool, a team from a country they’ve never been to.

This is why soccer can co-exist so easily with the NFL. It doesn’t get in the way. Americans like watching the best players play each other, something you won’t find in the MLS. But you will find it in England, and Americans have access to every Premier League match every week. If you live on the East Coast, those matches are played Saturday mornings at 7:45, 10:00 and 12:30. Those 10:00 matches end just before noon, meaning only one match conflicts with the start of the College Football day (though the better games are played later in the day). On Sunday the games are at 8:30 and 11 am, ending right around 12:56 PM which gives you around four minutes to find your remote and flip over to RedZone for the 1:00 slate of NFL games.

Soccer doesn’t get in the way at all. It’s why the number of fans is growing tremendously. It’s why the United States spends more money on World Cup rights then anyone else, and that networks are going to war with each other over those rights. It’s the reason that this summer the U.S. will set a new record for the rights to the Premier League. It’s why Fox has paid a ton of money for the rights to the Bundesliga despite not really having a place to show the games. But it doesn’t matter, every network is trying to get a piece of the soccer pie.

Look at how far we’ve come. In 2009 most U.S. soccer fans didn’t know what the Confederations Cup was until they realized their country made the final. Even fewer probably knew what the Gold Cup was.

Now, a year after that John Brooks goal, there are people arguing over the direction of the team after a year of uninspiring friendlies. Names like Rubio Rubin and Bobby Wood are familiar to even the average U.S. soccer fan and it seems everyone has a split opinion on them. The Jozy Altidore arguments are louder then ever because there are more people participating in them, though all participants will gladly stop the argument to agree that they’ve had enough of Brek Shea already.

 

The ratings for the Women’s World Cup on Fox so far have been surprisingly remarkable. The U.S. is leading the charge to cause reforms within FIFA and the men’s team just scored back-to-back wins over the Netherlands and Germany. Suddenly the U.S. is at the forefront of the soccer world.

If you’re still a hater of the beautiful game that’s fine. Keep ignoring it, you’ve been doing a great job of it, we don’t mind. My advice to you is simply stop trying to ignore it’s growth, you’ll just make yourself sound stupid.

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