The beautiful game, as it is known throughout the world, has never really found success in the United States. Sure, there have been times when interest has been peaked (around the World Cup especially), but the general trend among most Americans has been a fair disregard of the most popular sport in the world.
This trend of dissatisfaction of soccer between Americans, however, is starting to become alleviated with teams such as the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact recently incorporating themselves into the ranks of Major League Soccer (MLS). Not to say that other teams have not had a fair bit of success in America (look at the Los Angeles Galaxy and the New York Red Bulls and the high-profile players they have been able to sign), but the newest additions to the MLS seem to be propelling to heights that may start to dispel the dissatisfaction that Americans have with soccer.
The first of these teams that has helped to reverse the trend of American pessimism towards soccer was the Seattle Sounders. Officially joining Major League Soccer in the 2009 season, the Sounders burst onto the scene with record crowds, superstar players and a playoff appearance. Though they had been a feeder team to the MLS for quite some time and had popular support in the Northwest, the lack of royalty attached to the team always seemed to hold it back; this all changed once new owners came in and fostered a revolution.
Led by Drew Carey (famous for The Drew Carey Show and The Price is Right) and Joe Roth (former head of Disney and Fox Studios), the Sounders ownership group was immediately set up to bring in an atmosphere to Seattle surrounding soccer that would be unrivaled within the United States.
In order to do so, the Seattle ownership group has brought in players of high caliber, including world-renowned goalkeeper and Seattle native Kasey Keller, Freddy Montero, Mauro Rosales, Freddie Ljungberg and Alvaro Fernandez. These players, coupled with the atmosphere the city of Seattle has created for soccer, have revealed a hidden Northwest passion that has ignited the passion of so many; so many being an average attendance of 39,232 roaring, raging and passionate Sounders fans.
In fact, in order to accommodate the demand for tickets at Sounders games, management has had to continue opening different levels of CenturyLink Stadium every season the Sounders have been in MLS. These attendance numbers (which are tops in the MLS) would even be impressive abroad. The Soudners would rank seventh in the Barclays Premier League in attendance, falling just behind Chelsea. Chelsea!
Yet the Sounders are not the only team aiding in the development of a culture of passion for soccer within the United States.
Just around 173 miles south of Seattle rests the Portland Timbers, MLS's sleeping giants that officially kicked off in the MLS in 2011. Rivaling the atmosphere of Seattle, Portland fans have taken to Jeld Wen field (newly renovated specifically for soccer) to support their franchise in boisterous hoards of fans collectively known as the "Timbers Army."
Though the Timbers missed the playoffs in their first season in MLS, they are building to become one of the powerhouses in the nation. Notable player Alhassan is bringing a winning culture to the Timbers and igniting many passionate fans to take the MAX line straight to the playoffs. The average attendance of Portland is lower than that of Seattle at 18,827, but this is most likely due to the fact that their stadium cannot support the crowds the Sounders are able to.
Though these two teams are just a fraction of the amount of teams within the MLS, they illustrate a growing trend: a developing passion for soccer in the United States that will only increase as time goes by. Other teams are helping with this as well.
The Montreal Impact, who kicked off their MLS hopes and dreams in 2012, set an attendance record in Canada with an attendance of 58,912. The Vancouver Whitecaps, who joined the MLS in 2011 along with the Portland Timbers, have also found a passionate fanbase that has ignited further passion in the Northwest.
All of these facts added together show a growing interest in soccer within the United States, something that has long been festering in the hearts of many.
This interest will continue to grow further as more and more people attend professional games within the United States, bolstering revenue for their teams and for the sport in general. As this occurs, not only will teams be able to expand and enhance facilities, they will be able to afford high-profile players from around the world and entice many more world-renowned players to find a home in the US.
Though this is a daunting challenge that MLS will ultimately have to face, it must market itself properly in order to possibly attract a few top-tier players away from the European market, something that has been don eon the basis of loans in the past.
Helping garnish future popularity of the sport has been the media markets as well. In fact, NBC Sports has recently decided to broadcast an MLS game every week, just as they do with the NHL. Alongside NBC Broadcasts, local networks are picking up more and more games and ESPN even has a featured game of the week. Continuing exposure of this sport on a consistent and mass level only has benefits for the sport and for the fans around the nation.
Soccer is no longer the pansy sport that a lot of Americans once thought it to be. It has taken roots in the cities of Seattle, Portland, Montreal and Vancouver B.C. and started to sprout seeds of passion for the world's beautiful game all across the nation.
Will the MLS ever reach the popularity level of the MLB, NHL, NFL, or NBA?
No longer will the United States' interest in soccer peak only at times during the World Cup, but there is starting to be a sustained interest in soccer throughout the years. Sure, there is still a lot of work to do, but soccer is definitely on the rise in America and will continue to spread as more and more Americans begin to realize just how physically demanding, entertaining and fun soccer can be to watch and participate in.
Teams such as the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers have exposed a passion for soccer within the Northwest that has begun to change the way Americans view soccer. Who knows, some day we may find ourselves as captivated with the MLS Cup as we are with the Super Bowl and World Series.
Only time will tell.