U.S. Youth Soccer vs. Soccer Fandom in the U.S.

By | October 6, 2013

The United States Youth Soccer logo.

A common question that people often ask is, “why has soccer not taken off in the United States the same way that other sports have?” Although there are a variety of hypotheses, ranging from “it just isn’t the style of play that Americans like” to “it isn’t high scoring enough” to “there isn’t a professional league at a high enough level,” I think it is interesting to analyze the disconnect between I see between the high participation in youth soccer and the lack of fandom that exists.

Interestingly enough, the United States has the highest participation of youth playing soccer in the world, with almost 4 million American children registered with US Youth Soccer. Furthermore, the United States saw the most accelerated growth rate of high school soccer between 1990 and 2010 than it had ever seen before. There are also a growing number of television channels that provide access to both foreign and domestic games to help with the soccer push even further. An interesting number that seems contrary to what we think about fandom in the states is in a poll from ESPN in the Economist, demonstrating soccer is the second-favorite professional sport behind only American football in the United States for Americans ages 12-24. What do these numbers say to me? There is a large constituent of those who play, and perhaps there is a growing number of fans, but why are Americans thought of as not liking soccer, then?

However, I have to ask myself, “why do I love to play the game so much, and enjoy watching it, but would not consider myself an avid fan of the game?” And I think that there are probably numbers that exist about taking either side of this argument, but to me, I love watching sports because of its social nature. Watching the Masters finals on that first or second Sunday in April, sitting down with chips and dip every Sunday to watch American football, or going to Cameron to be a Cameron Crazie with 1,500+ others, soccer seems to fall into a catch-22 situation. I like to watch sports and be a fan because I get to do it with friends and family. But when friends and family don’t enjoy watching, then I don’t end up watching. Will the United States reverse this cycle and become a nation of fans of this beautiful game? Or perhaps we really are in a period of transition where people think the sport might not be big while in reality it has a huge following? Only time will tell.

Category: Fans Major League Soccer United States

About Bryan Silverman

Bryan is currently a junior at Duke University majoring in neuroscience. He is an avid soccer player, playing at high levels throughout his life, but not too much of a fan of any particular professional team. He is, however, the best FIFA player within his fraternity and welcomes any challenge to try to take him down.

6 thoughts on “U.S. Youth Soccer vs. Soccer Fandom in the U.S.

  1. Pingback: Soccer Politics / The Politics of Football » Where’s our La Masia?

  2. Jordan Pearson

    Soccer is growing in popularity in America, but it will take some time. The generation in college now grew up playing the sport and by the time we are fully fledged adults with kids of our own, we will constitute a large portion of the professional sporting fan base. Christopher got it right though; in order for it to really take off in the US, the MLS will need to attract some European League caliber players. It will take a few home-grown US players to commit to staying in the MLS to convince others to do the same and once this happens, then maybe it will snowball into a more competitive and captivating league that will truly capture American interests. And players are unlikely to do this until there is at least a decent sized fan base- or a small one vocal enough to convince them to do so. Until then, however, it will be difficult.
    The biggest problem here is that America has so many other strong professional leagues to distract sporting fans from the MLS. NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA….. The acronyms just go on and on… Its not really a problem that can be ‘fixed.’ It is just going to slow the process down. So soccer fans need to be supportive of their MLS teams in order to incentivize players to stay in America and build the game here!

  3. Julianna Miller

    I agree with you that it is very interesting how youth soccer seems to be such an integral part of Americans’ customs, and yet there still is such a large disconnect when it comes to soccer’s popularity in the United States. I think that a large factor in creating this is the media. Whenever you are watching TV, you can almost always guarantee that you will see an advertisement of some kind that involves football. Football is easily accessible on TV for Americans and it is perfect for advertisers as well. On the other hand, watching soccer is less convenient, in terms of timing and accessibility on TV. If soccer was advertised more and emphasized more by the media and television, I have no doubt that its popularity in the United States would grow because a large majority of Americans did grow up playing the sport and do have a true interest in it.

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  5. Christopher Nam

    I believe that a key aspect for the lack of fandom of soccer in the US is the fact that the best players and leagues are in Europe while sports like baseball, basketball, and football have the best leagues and players in America. Most soccer fans often follow the EPL, La Liga, or the Bundesliga because they contain the best players in the world and have the best competition. The MLS is starting to gain more international names, but is still regarded as the league that international stars turn to at the end of their careers when they can’t keep up in Europe. Most fans I know could name most of the starting lineups for teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid, or Manchester United, but would fail to name two or three players from their hometown MLS team. However, I think the increasing success of the US national team and the development of the youth academy systems will increase the prospect of future American superstars. The problem at the moment is that the big American players all aim to be able to play in Europe, with the MLS being a backup plan if they don’t see success, for example Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan. If the best players stayed in the MLS, and if the MLS gained more international superstars, then I believe soccer fandom in America will dramatically increase. However, soccer in America is not only competing against the other sports, but also the competition in other countries. The arrival of David Beckham and Thierry Henry to the MLS made huge impacts to the popularity of the MLS as well as their respective teams. However, until the MLS can bring in the top players in the world, I believe that it will still lag behind the other sports in American popularity.

  6. Gilda Doria

    One of the biggest reasons I believe that soccer hasn’t taken off in this country is because Americans don’t feel the sport the same way as in other countries. There is not enough true passion and love for the game as seen in other countries. People play because they need to get a scholarship. Also, a lot of parents sign their kids up for soccer, because they think it is the stereotypical thing to do. Kids start playing at an early age under the supervision of parents who buy “how to coach soccer books.” Soccer isn’t like this in other countries though. Kids play on the streets everyday. They aren’t spoiled by trainers or maneuvered through national teams by parents or politics. They don’t play to make an Olympic Development team or win prestigious tournaments in Las Vegas, Orlando, or Dallas. They play because they love it and strive to one day play for their full national team. Soccer is the outlet for many kids in other countries. They don’t have the luxuries we do here in the United States. Some of them see their future in soccer. Here everything is too managed by parents who want their kids to get a scholarship and play at the next level. This is my personal opinion after years of playing here through the youth systems in the United States.


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