Later this month, 32 countries from around the world will compete in the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Few events, if any, carry so much international appeal. The World Cup has the ability to turn casual soccer fans into complete fanatics, especially in the United States.
Soccer has grown in popularity since the early 2000s.
In 2018, 8% of Americans cited soccer as their favorite sport to watch, according to a Gallup poll. That number might sound low, but it ranked fourth, behind football (37%), basketball (11%), and baseball (9%).
Viewership for MLS games has risen each year for the better part of the last decade, according to Nielsen ratings and soccer participation in high school has grown exponentially compared to that of other sports.
“The growth of the club has been amazing how popular the sport’s become, and I feel like some of our best athletes are choosing to play soccer now,” said Lyle LeBere, technical director of Real Colorado. The club team is among that nation’s best and acts as a feeder to the professional level.
“I think just how simple it is [is a draw],” added Oli Larraz, a midfielder for the Colorado Rapids, one of 28 professional teams in the U.S. “Like, you just need a ball. You don’t even need a ball, you just need something to kick, and it’s really accessible to a lot of people.”
Larraz has been playing since he was 4 years old.
“I think everyone talks about it and especially with the MLS,” he added. “Since I was first coming to games here at the Rapids and now seeing the difference and the amount of people that are invested in it I think just shows how much US soccer has grown and how much people are getting into it.”
According to Schneider Downs, during the 1997 season, Major League Soccer averaged an attendance of 14,603 fans per game whereas the 2019 season averaged 21,310 fans per game.
In 2015, the league set a goal of expanding to 28 teams, where it currently stands and has plans to expand further in coming years.