The Fantastic Growth of American Soccer

Kansas City – If I were to tell my 13 year old self who didn’t care at all about the 2006 World Cup in Germany that I spent the entirety of this afternoon and evening watching the 2014 World Cup from Brazil, my younger self would probably be shocked. For me, like many of my fellow Americans, soccer is a very new phenomenon. We knew it existed back in Europe, Latin America, and Africa, but it simply has not made good roots here in the United States until very recently.

In the Summer of 2006, as the football/soccer world converged upon Germany, I was far more focused upon the old classic summer sport here in the States and Canada: baseball. I did not really care all that much that France and Italy made the final, though I knew they did, and remember my parents watching it while I played MLB At Bat in another room on my PlayStation 2. That being said, within two years I would have caught the soccer bug.

You’ll notice that throughout this article, I am referring to the sport known commonly the world over as football by its name here in the US and Canada: soccer. This is simply because we already have a sport called football, American Football, which frankly I’ve never really understood or cared for. The first soccer match that I ever watched in full was a repeat broadcast of the 2008 FA Cup Final on Fox Soccer. I chose to support Southampton over Cardiff City because of Southampton’s association with my own family, as my great-granddad Thomas Kane spent some time in Southampton with the American Expeditionary Force on his way to the trenches of France during the First World War. I know, it’s not the best of reasons, but it worked at the time.

At about the same time, the domestic first tier league here in the US and Canada, Major League Soccer, was just past its tenth anniversary, and beginning its expansion and meteoric rise to prominence that we are still in the process of witnessing. It would be another year until my parents and I made it to a MLS match, when during the summer of 2009 we went to see our local club, the Kansas City Wizards, take on Chivas USA at the Wizards’ then home CommunityAmerica Ballpark, the proper home of the Kansas City T-Bones Baseball Club. What an experience it was!

When the Wizards announced they would be building a soccer-specific stadium a few blocks east of the T-Bones ballpark, which was just a few miles east of my family’s farm, we knew we had to get season tickets. The 2010 World Cup was truly when the sport became prominent here in Kansas City, when our official watch party at the Power and Light District was featured a number of times on ESPN’s broadcasts of the USMNT matches in South Africa. Later that year, in December, the Wizards ownership group announced the rebranding of the team as Sporting Kansas City, and from there on out this city was on its way.

Since the start of the 2011 season, I have attended a good majority of all Sporting KC home matches, and have quickly found a great appreciation for the sport itself. It’s funny how things work, how a sport can change one’s life. When I first started watching soccer in 2008, I found other European based sports like rugby and cricket to be odd and confusing. Now I watch more rugby than American football, and follow cricket just as much as I do baseball. At about the same time that I was introduced to soccer, I was also introduced to my family’s current favourite sport, Formula 1.

Nationally, soccer has grown exponentially over the past few years. One major announcement that came earlier this year in the favour of the new sport was that it was just as popular among 19-24 year olds as the national pastime, baseball. As noted in an article on Al Jazeera America by David Keyes, a former editor of XI Quarterly, soccer is “now second only to basketball (above baseball and football) in youth participation numbers.” The youth of this country are becoming enthralled with the beautiful game. With the additions of New York City FC and Orlando City SC in 2015 and Atlanta in 2017, soccer is truly becoming a major sport in the United States. The world will know how far this country has come when our men’s national team wins the World Cup.

One added benefit to the growth of American soccer is the timing of the regular season here. Rather than play in the winter like the majority of the world’s leagues, which would be nearly impossible in much of the north, including my hometown of Chicago, our league plays from March to December. This ends up working out well on a global scale for viewers around the world, or at the very least for those of us Stateside, as when the MLS is off the European, and Mexican leagues among others are on. On the other hand, if you are like my family, my Chicagoland readership, expats included, or I you’ll spend the MLS offseason watching the Blackhawks.

That’s the beauty of the sporting scene here in the US and Canada, we are already used to having multiple sports going on at once. Just look at your average November or December Sunday: the NHL, NFL, and NBA will all be at play, often with franchises from the same city playing at the same time. Adding another sport to our springs, summers, and autumns is nothing new. I am more than happy to be following the Blackhawks, Sporting KC, the Bulls, and my two favourite baseball teams (the Cubs and Royals) all at once. Multitasking is something of a speciality for a triple major like me.

So, looking at this year’s World Cup being played out in Brazil, I find myself gleefully watching every moment I can. This played itself out to the extent today that I ended up watching three of today’s four matches in full. Come Monday though, it will be all for the USMNT.

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