Every time a World Cup or a European Championships comes around, there are always a batch of articles championing the growth of soccer and proclaiming how it will soon be popular in the United States. After all, the ratings of the big tournaments are slowly rising.
Well, get used to it because soccer is here to stay.
I don't mean soccer is going to usurp the NFL, baseball, basketball, or even hockey in popularity, at least not in the immediate future. But there are two reasons why soccer's popularity will continue to expand.
The best games are more visible
European leagues are still the cream of the crop, but until only a few years ago, games were hard to find on American television. Now, a Manchester United fan or a Chelsea fan is much more likely to find their teams on ESPN2 or ESPN360 or even on various ways legal and illegal on the internet.
The big tournaments get exposure, too. When the World Cup is on, the games are all easy to find. This year anyone who wants to find Euro 2008 games is able to, whether it be through ESPN, ESPN2, or ESPN360.
And people are watching. More people are able to watch it, so casual soccer fans who have nothing to watch in the middle of the day will put the games on. From personal experience, in my class at school, several students around me were watching games.
But there's another side to the growth in popularity.
American soccer is improving, both in its own play and in its league's play
The United States has also been steadily improving as a soccer team, even though the results haven't necessarily been there yet. The talent base continues to grow, with rising stars like Freddy Adu complementing other young talents like Landon Donovan. The best players on the team are primarily in their mid twenties.
But while the US team only dominates the news every four years, America's own soccer league, Major League Soccer, is also improving.
The signing of David Beckham drew all the headlines, but he's not the only star in the league. Brad Guzan, Luciano Emilio, and Shalrie Joseph are examples of some of the better players in the world both American and foreign.
One of the reasons the MLS couldn't get off the ground is because casual fans thought the game was too boring and serious fans had no respect for it. It tried to identify with mainstream sports with cheesy team nicknames, and the league's overall play was rather poor.
Twelve years later, David Beckham's signing gives the MLS some more credibility, something that it was finally starting to deserve.
Make no mistake about it, soccer will never surpass baseball, football, or basketball. Americans typically do not like sports where the teams rarely combine for more than four goals combined, and we sure won't let this "boring" foreign game surpass more American-born sports.
But soccer is coming. Americans are adopting European teams to root for, and MLS attendance is rising, showing its growing popularity.
It's a slow process, but twenty years right now, will soccer finally be a part of mainstream American sports talk?