The Popularity of Soccer in America

Nikola Vukovic

Mirror Essay Final Draft


With the world cup just over the horizon, it’s exciting too see all the hype about soccer in the US. Most of my friends are showing interest by talking about soccer and even playing it rather then playing basketball, which is what we usually do. For someone that is passionate about soccer, the fact that American’s “like” soccer every 4 years is very interesting to me. I don’t understand how someone can ignore a sport for many years, and then suddenly become a “huge” fan for a few weeks. To find out why this is the case I will have to look at the history of soccer, how Americans view soccer and how soccer compares to other “American” sports in popularity.

“Na man play at the Fute-ball,” or “no man shall play football,” is what King James I of Scotland proclaimed in the Parliament after the growing incidents of violence and military indulgence in the sport of soccer. The fact that so many people were injured during soccer was because the primitive version had very few rules. The only objectives were the get the ball in the opposing team’s net by any means necessary.  This was very attractive to early man, because it had enough rules to justify the fact that they were playing a game, but it lacked enough rules to allow the players to get their aggressions out. Due to its aggressive nature soccer was never viewed as a major competitive sport anywhere in the world.

However about 200 years ago a major movement took place that ensured the modernization of soccer in Europe. In 1815 developments too place that made soccer popular in Universities, Collages, and Schools. Soccer was still considered a barbaric sport with a massive amount of potential. So popular English schools decided to make the game more civil by adding rules, rules that would later be called the Cambridge Rules. However when these rules were put into place, it was difficult to make everyone happy. Therefore the game was split up into two games. One was Rugby, which allowed many of the rules previously found in the primitive version such as tripping, shin kicking and also carrying the ball. The other game followed the Cambridge rules, which were the basis for modern soccer.

Then about 150 years ago the history of modern soccer was established in October of 1863. This was done because 11 representatives from various London clubs and schools met at the Freemason’s Tavern to set up common fundamental rules to control the matches amongst themselves. The result of this meeting was the formation of the Football Association. This was the last straw for the Rugby supporters, because in December of 1863 the Rugby Association finally split off from the Football Association in pursuit of their own game.

This was the big turning point for modern soccer, because now the game was independent from outside influence, which allowed it to grow. So for another 3 years it did just that, it grew until the Football Association firmly established the foundation of soccer in 1869. These firm foundations ensured that the game would be played with the feet by strictly banning any kind of handling of the ball. Once the rules were established the game’s popularity spread rapidly throughout the world. European countries, such as Italy, Spain, and Germany, were very quick to embrace the game, as did the South American countries such as Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina.

In 1904 FIFA was established and by early 1930s various countries had different leagues operating with in them. The US didn’t join in the soccer hype until the 1960s where the popularity was first seen to grow. Two years after the 1994 World Cup was hosted by the US, the MLS was formed. Initially the league fared poorly because two teams were discarded due to financial reasons. However the MLS has rebounded and it has grown to 19 teams. This is very encouraging to see because it gives me hope that the US will one day adopt soccer like the rest of the world.

It’s no secret that soccer isn’t as popular in America when compared to the rest of the world. The game is considered to be the most popular sport in the world, but that excitement hasn’t transferred over to the US. Maybe that’s because the sport is very young in the US when compared to other countries. When Jimmy Conrad, a MLS player for 13 years, was asked why isn’t soccer as popular in the US he said,”I think it is popular in the U.S. I think the problem is, I mean you can just look at World Cup anytime there is a World Cup going on people stop and watch no matter if it is four in the morning or at ten at night whatever people find a way to make time to make that happen, so it is just kind of plugging into that kind of passion…” I absolutely agree with him when he says that we have to plug into that kind of passion. Being a fan of soccer isn’t just a sometimes thing. For fans from other countries, it’s a way of life. You need passion and love to wake up at 3 am to watch your favorite team play. I am one of those people and many of my foreign friends are the same way. But how does one become this way? Why aren’t American’s like this about soccer?

It is true that America values sport highly, because many children are introduced to sports through their parents at a very young age. This is so because an athlete is regarded highly in America. However the main sports are Basketball, Baseball and American Football, where soccer is left out and spectated by soccer moms and the sibling of the players. British writer Michael Mandelbaum said, “Even in as large and wealthy a country as the United States, where the national appetite for playing, and even more so for watching, games is enormous, the cultural, economic and psychological space available for sport is limited and that space is already taken. Baseball, American football and basketball have long since put down deep roots, claimed particular seasons of the year as their own (although they now overlap) and gained the allegiance of the sports-following public…” He also went on to say,” One in particular of those three sports – basketball – poses a singular obstacle to the national acceptance of football. The two are too similar for them both to succeed. Each belongs to the family of games whose object is to put a ball (or similar object) in a goal.” I for one don’t agree with Mr. Michael when he says that soccer has no “room” in American sports. If the game is good and fun to watch or play then people will make time for it regardless of the popularity of similar sports.

So then the problem might be that the game seems boring to people. In 2006, Steven M. Warshawsky argued that the disinterest has to do with the relatively low scores in soccer games. In his article he states, “My theory is that Americans have neither the belief system nor the temperament for such a Sisyphean sport as soccer. We are a society of doers, achievers, and builders. Our country is dynamic, constantly growing, and becoming ever bigger, richer, and stronger. We do not subscribe to a “zero sum” mentality. We do not labor for the sake of laboring. And we like our sports teams to score. Scoring is a tangible accomplishment that can be identified, quantified, tabulated, compared, analyzed, and, above all else, increased. This is the American way.” Its defiantly possible that Americans think that soccer is boring and they can’t see themselves watching people running back and forth for 90 minutes, especially if the game ends in a tie. In his 10 reasons why soccer isn’t popular in the US, Spenser T. Harrison said, “It has been said that a tie is like kissing your sister, and in soccer it happens 55 percent of the time.” He also said, “A soccer team generally scores as much as Steve Erkel. When your sport fails to notch as many points as a baseball game, there is a serious problem. It’s sad when a group of generally unathletic guys playing a sport in pants, in which there is a very real possibility that not a single bead of sweat will develop on them, still manage to have more scoring and excitement than soccer.”

For all the stick America gets for not embracing soccer, it is also interesting to think about why basketball or golf or Rugby aren’t the most popular sports in the world. Why has the world picked soccer over all those? American soccer critics will claim that basketball is more exciting because of the high scoring and the same goes for American football, but if that’s true then why doesn’t the rest of the world see it that way. If the higher scoring sport in generally more exciting, or better to watch, then why isn’t the whole world on board with basketball being the most popular. I think that the amount of scoring doesn’t matter; it’s the game that matters. I think people that don’t appreciate soccer either don’t like sports or don’t have the attention span necessary to watch what can often be a game of strategy, like chess, where the teams look for an opening to score. The game is very difficult to play, due to it being played with the feet, and therefore one cant simply run past the defense, using his strength to over power his opponents. Therefore the teams need to have a strategy to out smart each other while using their physical ability as support. Rather then relaying purely on their physical ability as their primary weapon such as many American football players do.



Works cited:

Warshawsky, Steven M. “Articles: Why Americans Don’t Like Soccer.”Articles: Why Americans Don’t Like Soccer. 25 June 2006. Web. 18 May 2014.

Reimink, Troy. “Why Isn’t Soccer More Popular in America?” 11 June 2010. Web. 18 May 2014.

Della Vava, Marco R. “ – Why the United States Doesn’t Take to Soccer.” – Why the United States Doesn’t Take to Soccer. USA Today, 07 July 2006. Web. 18 May 2014.

Mandelbaum, Michael. “Why America Hates Football.” Observer. Observe Sport Monthly, 1 Aug. 2004. Web. 18 May 2014.

Harrison, Spenser T. “Top Ten Reasons Soccer Isn’t Popular in the United States.” Bleacher Report. Bleacher Report, 5 May 2008. Web. 18 May 2014.

Jezek, Geno. “History Of Soccer.” History of Soccer. Web. 18 May 2014.

Conrad, Jimmy. “Why Isn’t Soccer More Popular in the U.S.?” YouTube. YouTube, 23 Apr. 2012. Web. 18 May 2014.

“Soccer in the United States.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 18 May 2014. Web. 18 May 2014.







One thought on “The Popularity of Soccer in America

  1. Nikola:
    I think your paper was interesting and I decided to read it merely based on the title. I feel that soccer is not as big in the US simply due to the astonishing history it has in other countries. Did you find any TV shows or movies that support your thesis? Also have you found that Portland has a new found love for soccer due to The Timbers? This would have been interesting to incorporate into your paper as well.
    -Tonya Mitchell

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