Does America hate soccer? For decades, it was a running joke that Americans not only didn’t care about soccer but were actively hostile to it. And while that joke was doubtless true for a couple of generations, it’s been outdated now for at least a decade, if not longer. Come along on this Inquisitr writer’s personal journey, and see how it mirrors the decline and fall of soccer in the U.S.
1954 – 1994: Soccer’s Nadir In The United States
It was the fall of 1986, and this future Inquisitr writer was in honors Spanish in high school. As part of a learning aide, my teacher handed out these weekly readers designed for high school Spanish students. These readers contained articles, in Spanish, about topics related to Spain and Latin America, and the one that I remember from that day in class was about Argentina’s dominance at the 1986 World Cup as well as Diego Maradona’s dominance.
The article had absolutely no resonance with me. Not only had I never heard of Diego Maradona, I hadn’t even been aware that there was a soccer tournament the previous summer.
Fast forward to 1990, and this writer, now a college student and fan of sports-talk radio, took the slightest of slight interests in the World Cup. But the opinion of almost every sports-talk radio host, local or nationally-syndicated, was the same: the World Cup was, at best, as deserving of your attention as an international cup-stacking tournament, and at worst, a communist plot to shove foreign values down the throats of red-blooded Americans.
1994 – America Hosts The World Cup And Does Reasonably Well
Four years later, this Inquisitr writer was now an adult and living on his own, and I decided to give soccer a shot. After all, the USA was hosting, and what kind of patriot would I have been if I didn’t watch?
By all measures, the 1994 World Cup was a rousing success and then some. Sure, the American team didn’t go very far – no one expected them to – tying Switzerland and beating Colombia to make it out of the Group Stage. And I was hooked.
The Exponential Growth Of MLS
Perhaps not coincidentally, after the World Cup, American investors took a second shot at a major, professional soccer league (the NASL of the ’70s and ’80s having been a dismal failure). In the early 1990s, Major League Soccer (MLS) was born.
It experienced some growing pains, to be sure. In its first few years, teams, composed of players who worked night jobs to make ends meet, played in mostly-empty stadiums. However, following a much stronger-than-expected showing at the 2002 World Cup, when the USA made the quarterfinals against all expectations, soccer experienced a resurgence in the U.S.
Now, two decades later, MLS has surpassed the National Hockey League (NHL) in popularity, according to CNN, and is quickly gaining ground on the NBA. Stadiums are selling out, merchandise is flying off the shelves, and top-tier European athletes are coming here to play.
None of this is to say that there still aren’t some Americans who actively hate soccer – I, for one, once got laughed out of a sports bar for asking the bartender to put the Orlando City game on one of the TVs. And of course, don’t expect Fox to blow up the ratings when the network’s coverage of the 2018 World Cup begins – after all, the U.S. isn’t playing and it’s baseball season.
But to say that America hates soccer is not only utterly not true, it hasn’t been true for at least 10 years.