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History Of Soccer In The US

History Of Soccer In The US: Brief Review Of American Soccer

The United States was the first British colony to play soccer-style games as far back as the original Jamestown settlement in 1607, and collegiate play gained momentum after the Civil War. In this article, we review the history of soccer in the US.

Soccer in the US centered on contests played by the major colleges and universities in the Northeast.

Birth Of The USA | American History
Birth Of The USA | American History

For example, the first- and second-year classes at Harvard had instituted an annual intramural soccer contest in 1827 played on the first Monday of the new school year, titled “Bloody Monday.”

The Oneida Soccer Club was formed in Boston in 1862 and is cited as the first soccer club to consist of a regular roster of players, in contrast to pickup games commonly played at the time which consisted of players from relatively elite public schools.

The first intercollegiate game was between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869 and used rules which allowed for 25 players and moving the ball with all parts of the body, including the hands.

The first team to score six points won. Interestingly, this game is generally recognized as the first soccer game and the first football (gridiron) game.

Soccer In The US - The History

Soccer Versus Football In The United States

A hybrid soccer game known as the “Boston Game” was soon taken up by Yale, Colombia, and Cornell, while Harvard became more interested in the rugby form of the game.

A fateful event that would forever change American soccer occurred in 1875 when Harvard solidly beat Yale in a game with special concessionary rules, which included both goals (resembling soccer-like goals) and tries (later touchdowns).

Yale and Princeton (who had been watching) were impressed with Harvard’s rugby team and followed suit. In 1876 Harvard, Princeton, and Colombia formed the Intercollegiate Football Association using rugby rules. Other colleges soon followed, and the end of 1876 saw the rapid decline of collegiate soccer in the US.

Walter Camp, the father of American Football, would continue to modify rugby rules that would eventually create modern American football.

1934 world cup usa team

Road To The Soccer World Cup

Soccer in the US did not disappear altogether. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, soccer was a regional game played almost exclusively by immigrants and working-class communities. At the same time, the upper classes looked to rugby and (American) football.

However, baseball was soon seen as the American pastime, and immigrants would attempt to Americanize themselves by playing baseball rather than soccer, which was seen as a game of foreigners.

During the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, US interest in soccer in the United States gained some momentum by being part of the growing Olympic movement.

However, when FIFA was formed in 1904 (due partly to the Olympic movement), the US was left out because it lacked a truly national organization association.

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However, in 1913 FIFA accepted the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), a shortened form of the previously known United States Soccer Football Association.

The addition of soccer as an official medal sport for the 1908 Olympics also increased US interest in international competition, as did the establishment of the first American Soccer League in 1921, which created a team with enough prestige to compete with European players.

In 1930, the US participated in the first FIFA World Cup in Uruguay, where the team, according to an Uruguayan newspaper, “really surprised the experts” with its better-than-mediocre showing. The US continued to participate in the World Cup with a surprise win over heavily favored England in 1950.

The sport of soccer in the US continued to spread from its strong ethnic base to mainstream America during the 1960s when drastic social changes gave rise to spectator sports and the advent of television.

History Of USA Soccer

New Golden Era Of Soccer

While US interest in soccer continued to grow, the USSF felt hosting the World Cup would encourage even more interest. Yet many felt that the World Cup would never sell in the US because of the lack of overall success and reputation at the professional level.

However, when Los Angeles hosted the 1984 Summer Olympics, the soccer competition was the most attended sport in the games. In addition, American Paul Caligiuri’s game-winning “shot heard around the world” in a 1989 World Cup qualifying game boded well for the United States soccer reputation.

When the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) won the first Women’s World Cup in 1991, FIFA officials were finally impressed with the US market’s potential.

With the encouragement of the USSF, the United States was awarded the World Cup in 1994 on the condition that it established a first-division professional league.

The 1994 World Cup was the world’s biggest sporting event, drawing 715.1 million viewers for the 1994 final. In 1999, the FIFA Women’s World Cup was held in the United States for the first time, which brought a new level of international popularity to women’s soccer.

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In the final match of the Cup, which also boasted an all-time-high attendance record for a women’s sporting event, American Brandi Chastain scored the winning goal in a penalty shoot against China and joyously waved her jersey in a bra-revealing celebration.

Soccer is a sport that unites and divides across global political, religious, and economic differences. But, more than just a sport, soccer is a cultural phenomenon in which national dramas and individual athletic rivalries are played out.

Often a metaphor for cultural and social concerns, soccer paradoxically fuels divisiveness, fierce nationalism, and violence while at the same time sparking the imagination and passion of millions of players of fans.

FIFA World Cup appearances – 11 (1930, 1934, 1950, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014, 2022)

FIFA World Cup victories – Third Place (1930)


Continental Titles


CONCACAF Gold Cup 1991 USA, CONCACAF Gold Cup 2002 USA, CONCACAF Gold Cup 2005 USA


CONCACAF Gold Cup 1993 USA/Mexico, CONCACAF Gold Cup 1998 USA

World Titles


  • FIFA Women’s World Cup Final (1991, 1999, 2015, and 2019)
  • Olympic Football Tournament Women’s Final (1996, 2004, 2008, and 2012)
  • FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Final (2002, 2008 and 2012)


  • FIFA Futsal World Cup Final (1992)
  • Olympic Football Tournament Women’s Final (2000)
  • FIFA Women’s World Cup Final (2011)

Third Place:

  • FIFA Futsal World Cup Final (1989)
  • FIFA Confederations Cup (1992)
  • FIFA Women’s World Cup Final (1995)
  • FIFA Confederations Cup (1999)
  • FIFA Women’s World Cup Final (2003)
  • FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Final (2004)

Fourth Place

  • FIFA U-20 World Cup Final (1989)
  • FIFA U-17 World Cup Final (1999)
  • Olympic Football Tournament Final (2000)
  • FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Final (2006)


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