America’s new past time?
Baseball has been known to be America’s favorite past time, but that could change in the next couple of years. A new sport is on the rise and is spreading across the nation, a sport that has the potential to be America’s new favorite past time. Known as football around the world, here in the U.S. we know it as soccer.
Soccer was slow to gain popularity due to other sports like American football, baseball, and basketball, which have remained America’s most popular sports. Today, however, the United States has more official soccer players than any other nation in the world, with almost 18 million. No other sport in the world crosses so many cultural boundaries, and it’s no surprise that it is the fastest growing team sport in the United States.
Soccer has been in the U.S. since the early 1800s; the first official soccer team, the Oneidas, was formed in 1862. Immigrants from Europe helped spurred the soccer movement in the last part of the 19th century. They brought with them the traditions and rules and formed local teams to play on. The first attempt to organize a professional soccer league happened in 1884 with the founding of the “American League of Professional Football,” but later that same year the league closed.
In the past several decades, the number of soccer leagues have risen all across the country. Soccer has particularly caught on with younger generations. According to the Federation International Football Association (FIFA), of the 18 million Americans who play soccer, 78 percent are under the age of 18. “The experts say soccer has become popular with children because almost anyone can play. There are teams for girls, boys, older children and young adults.”
This widespread participation among youth is making the sport more popular. Many Americans become interested in soccer because their children play. This is also where the term “Soccer Mom” has come from.
In the 1900s, soccer was recognized as the fastest growing college and high school sport in the United States. This trend continues today with more high schools and colleges adding soccer programs to their athletics programs. Another thing colleges have started doing, which helps contribute to the growth of soccer, is hosting soccer camps for youth to work on their skills.
Soccer has been played on campus since 1977, according to UIS archives, when it was still called Sangamon State University and Aydin Gonulsen coached the team. In their first game the SSU Prairie Stars beat Bradley University 4-2. The sport continued to thrive when the SSU Prairie Stars won their first NAIA national championship in 1986. Even though the school is no longer known as SSU, the soccer program has continued to grow and now includes members from other countries like Spain, Russia, and Barbados.
There are several factors that helped contribute to the growth of soccer over the past several decades. The biggest factor was the 1994 World Cup that took place here in the United States. One of the main reasons that FIFA chose to have the World Cup in the U.S. was in compliance with an agreement that a professional league would be established. And so in 1996, two years after the World Cup, Major League Soccer (MLS) was founded.
Another important factor that helped escalate the sport’s popularity was soccer superstars, like English soccer player David Beckham playing in the MLS. Today the MLS has 16 professional teams that are helping increase the sport’s popularity.
Popularity grew even more with the 2010 FIFA World Cup as fans across the nation watched the month long tournament unfold.
American soccer is also affecting soccer on a global level. Annette Lydon stated in her article The Growth of Soccer in the United States, “In the U.S., 35 percent of all soccer players are female, one of the highest percentages of women participants around the world. Soccer in America is helping to cross racial, as well as gender, lines.”
This is why soccer is becoming so popular. No matter where you are in the world, what gender, or race, anyone can play soccer. It can be played practically anywhere and the rules are universal.
With all these local and international influences, it is not hard to see why soccer’s popularity is on the rise in the United States. In the next several years soccer might be considered one of the top sports in America, and maybe even a new favorite past time. Due to the economy, the growth of soccer has slowed slightly, but it has not stopped. For now soccer will just continue to grow and gain popularity.