Soccer in America has long struggled to build a dedicated fanbase. For decades, American sports has been dominated by the “Big Four” professional sports leagues: the National Football League, National Hockey League, National Basketball association and Major League Baseball. Unlike in most other countries, America’s athletically gifted youth often grow up playing with a basketball or football instead of a soccer ball, and as such our best talent is funneled into non-soccer sports. But times are changing. Major League Soccer is about to enter its 22nd season with 23 teams, five more than existed in the league in 2015. Soccer in America is making a resurgence.
Major League Soccer, to put it lightly, has struggled to appear competitive on the international stage. Star players are rare to come by, and it is even rarer to find them playing in their prime. However, the MLS has recently begun pouring large sums of money into youth development leagues and facilities, investing over $30 million a year in the hopes of developing home grown talent. With ambitious youth activism policies and a growing fanbase, signings of star players may soon be commonplace.
Although talent is sometimes an issue, attendance problems are starting to fade in the MLS. Five new teams have recently been added to the league, with several new soccer-specific stadiums being constructed for their use. In addition, average per-game attendance recently surpassed 20,000 people, a higher number than either the NHL or NBA can tout. Although television ratings continue to struggle, new contracts between the MLS and ESPN hope to amend the viewership issue and grow the sport.
Every passing year, the case for following the MLS and treating it as a serious soccer league grows stronger. With their 22nd season opening in less than a week, MLS fans should be excited for better players, new stadiums, and a larger fanbase in years to come.