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From Margins to Mainstream: The Remarkable Rise of Soccer in US Culture

When the United States hosted the World Cup for the first time back in 1994, the tournament barely registered on the country’s radar. Some locals didn’t even realize the US was hosting a major tournament, let alone following it.  

Quite a contrast to the present day, with soccer slowly becoming the juggernaut many predicted it would. It’s gone from the margins to the mainstream, undergoing a remarkable rise that now has arguably the best player in the world (yes, still now) playing for Inter Miami. 

This meteoric rise was predicted in the 1970s when Pele and Cruyff graced US fields. It didn’t happen. Then again in 1994, when the country hosted the World Cup. Didn’t quite come to pass. Today, however, it’s a different story. 

The Early Years 

Before the 1994 World Cup, many games weren’t even televised. During the epic final between the Netherlands and Argentina, people watched in anguish as the game went into extra time. American fans, on the other hand, had to wait several days until a tape-delayed broadcast. 

Games would even be interrupted for the usual American advertisement slots, right in the middle of the match. It’s unbelievable, but true. Most Americans didn’t even really understand the many rules of soccer and thought the game was too low-scoring compared to football and basketball. 

The Rise of Soccer 

In 2004, only 2% of Americans named soccer as their favorite sport. In 2022, that number jumped to 8%. Compared to baseball, which is meant to be America’s Pastime, which beats soccer by just a single percentage point. 

The huge surge is due to several parts, not one necessarily having a greater impact than another, but cumulatively giving soccer a huge impetus for growth: 

Popular with Kids 

Soccer has become the go-to sport for many young kids. The very concept of a soccer mom underlines this. Parents prefer to have their kids playing sports that don’t involve bashing into other kids (here’s looking at you, NFL!). Plus, you don’t need a fancy hoop or gym to play something like basketball.

Football continues to grow with children, with increased investment in facilities, local sports clubs, and schools. With more and more kids picking soccer over football or basketball, logic translates to more adults preferring the world’s game over American classics. 

MLS is a Legit League 

When the MLs had its inaugural match, many fans laughed it off. The ridiculous rules, the usual American pomp, the lack of ‘real’ soccer vibes. Even local American fans preferred to watch the Premier League. 

Then, David Beckham arrived. His move from Real Madrid, arguably the biggest soccer club in the world, to the LA Galaxy, sent shockwaves. Finally, a proper player, someone still in his prime, fresh off a La Liga win, the former England captain, wow. 

That started the snowball, with dozens of big-name stars making the move stateside. We’ve had players like Thierry Henry, Frank Lampard, Jermain Defoe, Wayne Rooney, Robbie Keane, David Villa, Sebastian Giovinco, and Zlatan. 

And of course the biggest move of them all: Lionel Messi. This wasn’t a guy about to retire, no longer at the height of his powers. Sure, he’s getting older, but the magic is still there. Before he arrived, he had just won the World Cup, beating his younger heir apparent in the final. 


We can’t seriously talk about soccer in America without talking about the USWNT. They’re more popular than the men’s equivalent, more successful, bigger stars, and have achievements on the international stage that are epic and unmatched. 

They’ve won a staggering four World Cups. And if there’s one thing we know that Americans like, it’s winning. The achievements of players like Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe are worthy of status, and the team may have single-handedly bumped soccer into the next stratosphere. 

Nothing but respect for these ladies, that’s for sure. They captured the imagination of people all over, and continue to do so. And that’s the tea.  

Will Soccer Become No. 1? 

So as we round things off, it’s clear that soccer is finally taking flight in the United States. Some claim the sport has already well and truly arrived. And even though soccer finally means something in the country, it’s still small potatoes compared to the ‘big’ sports. 

Just consider the television ratings. Super Bowl LVII had 113.1 million US viewers, compared to the paltry 25.8 million watching Messi finally win his World Cup. Considering soccer is the biggest sport on the planet, the figures are still baffling to some. 

But it’s not necessarily about where we are now, rather than where we’re going. In 2018, when France finally got their chip, the combined viewing figures were 11.8 million in the US. We’ve more than doubled that. 

So back to the question: will soccer become the no. 1 in the USA? Probably not anytime soon. The NFL has a pretty strong grip on the throne, and it’s even getting bigger abroad. But that doesn’t mean soccer can’t break the traditional triumvirate, turning it from a Big 3 to a Fantastic 4. 

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