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Association football, or soccer,[1] has long been a mainstream sport in the United States. It is the most popular recreational sport for both boys and girls and has been so for more than 30 years.[2] However, as a spectator sport it is exceeded in popularity by baseball, American football, basketball and ice hockey.

Contents

Overview

Professional soccer has been less popular in the United States than most other parts of the world. Major League Soccer, the United States' professional first-division league, is not, in general, as well-attended as the major leagues of American football, baseball, or basketball, but MLS is also much younger, and has far fewer teams. Major League Soccer played its first season in 1996, while other major U.S. leagues have each existed since the first half of the Twentieth Century.

Although MLS is also much younger than most other countries' first divisions, and has 15 teams in 2009, it is already the 12th most-attended premier division in the entire world.[3] In 2006, MLS broke its all-time record for attendance at a regular-season match, which saw 92,650 spectators fill the Los Angeles Coliseum on a Sunday in August; although that claim is somewhat misattributed to the MLS game as it was one of two games played that night, the second being a match between two power-houses of the Spanish speaking world: Spain's Barcelona and Mexico's Guadalajara.[4] On August 1, 2009, a friendly match between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Barcelona at the Rose Bowl, drew a crowd of 93,137 fans. The last time a soccer match drew that many people in the United States was during the 1994 FIFA World Cup.[5]

In 2007, with the arrivals of international superstars such as David Beckham and Cuauhtémoc Blanco, attendance records for specific MLS teams and stadiums continue to rise. Additionally, the United States and Mexico national teams have been playing in front of crowds in excess of 60,000 in the U.S. in recent years. Television viewership of club and international soccer in the U.S. is at an all-time high, with major sports networks regularly covering games in some fashion and several other channels dedicated mostly or entirely to the sport.

Until recently, American soccer was more of a regional phenomenon than it is today. Soccer flourished in hotbeds such as New Jersey, New York, Saint Louis, the Pacific Northwest, Southern California, and in areas with large immigrant populations that grew up with the game in their homelands. Nonetheless, soccer is now gradually gaining popularity all over the country, partially due to youth programs, the creation of Major League Soccer, and the recent success of the United States' men's and women's national teams.

History of soccer in the U.S.

It is often claimed that the Oneida Football Club of Boston, Massachusetts, founded in 1862 was the first club to play soccer outside the United Kingdom. However, the club could not have been playing soccer, as they were formed before The Football Association formulated the rules in England; it is not known what rules the club used, and it broke up within the space of a few years.[6] According to Encyclopædia Britannica, the club is often credited with inventing the "Boston Game", which both allowed players to kick a round ball along the ground, and to pick it up and run with it. The first U.S. match known to have been inspired by FA rules was a game between Princeton University and Rutgers University on November 6, 1869, which was won by Rutgers 6-4. The FA rules were followed in the Princeton-Rutgers contest: participants were only allowed to kick the ball and each side had 25 players. Other colleges emulated this development, but all of these were converted to rugby by the mid-1870s and would soon become famous as early bastions of American football.[7]

Early soccer leagues in the U.S. mostly used the name "football," for example: the American Football Association (founded in 1884), the American Amateur Football Association (1893), the American League of Professional Football (1894), the National Association Foot Ball League (1895), and the Southern New England Football League (1914). However, the word "soccer" was beginning to catch on, and the Saint Louis Soccer League was a significant regional competition between 1907 and 1939. What is now the United States Soccer Federation was originally the United States Football Association, formed in 1913 by the merger of the American Football Association and the American Amateur Football Association. The governing body of the sport in the U.S. did not have the word soccer in its name until 1945, when it became the United States Soccer Football Association. It did not drop the word football from its name until 1974, when it became the United States Soccer Federation, often going simply as U.S. Soccer.

Two more soccer leagues were started in 1967, the United Soccer Association and the National Professional Soccer League. These merged to form the North American Soccer League in 1968, which survived until 1984. The NASL also ran an indoor league in the latter years.[8] Indoor soccer was a great success in the 1980s and 1990s, in part due to the effort of the NASL. When the NASL (both outdoor and indoor) folded, other leagues, including the Major Indoor Soccer League stepped in to meet the demand. Twenty-five years hence, the latest version of the MISL folded, and was replaced by the National Indoor Soccer League, the Professional Arena Soccer League, and the Xtreme Soccer League.

Soccer in the United States today

Interest in soccer within the United States has grown rapidly starting in the 1990s. This has been attributed to the fact that the 1994 FIFA World Cup was played in the United States, the first time the event was held in the U.S. This won the sport more attention from both the media and casual sports fans. As part of the United States' bid to host the World Cup in 1994, U.S. Soccer pledged to create a professional outdoor league for the first time since the collapse of the NASL a decade earlier. That effort culminated in the launch of Major League Soccer in 1996, which helped develop American players in a way that was not possible without a domestic league. Many of these players competed in the 2002 FIFA World Cup, where the United States did surprisingly well, finishing in the quarterfinals by beating archrivals Mexico in the Round of 16 and narrowly losing to eventual runners-up Germany in the quarterfinals.

Unlike in most soccer playing nations, the growth of the women's game in the U.S. has helped increase overall interest in soccer in the United States. Both the 1999 and 2003 FIFA Women's World Cups were held in the United States, and the United States has emerged as one of the best national teams in the world. They are currently ranked first in the FIFA Women's World Rankings, have won two of the five FIFA Women's World Cups held thus far, and have also won gold medals in three of the four Olympic women's football tournaments held to date.[9] The crowd of over 90,000 at the Rose Bowl for the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup remains the largest crowd in the world ever to witness any women's sporting event.

The professional first-division league in the United States is Major League Soccer, which has 14 teams in the U.S. and one in Canada, with expansion planned to bring the league to 18 teams by the 2011 season. The United Soccer Leagues (USL) are a collection of five leagues, with four currently in operation, spanning the lower divisions of men's professional soccer, as well as women's soccer and youth soccer. The USL First Division, previously the second-level professional league in the U.S., will not operate in 2010. When Nike sold its stake in the overall USL organization, a group of disgruntled First Division owners announced plans to launch a new incarnation of the North American Soccer League in 2010. U.S. Soccer refused to sanction either the First Division or the new NASL for 2010, and the two groups eventually agreed to unite for 2010 only under the banner of USSF Division 2, run directly by U.S. Soccer and including teams from both leagues. USSF Division 2 will feature nine U.S. teams, two Canadian teams, and one Puerto Rican team. The USL Second Division is the professional third-division league in the U.S. and contains eight U.S. teams and one team from Bermuda. The semi-professional fourth-division league in the United States is the USL Premier Development League, which has 62 U.S. teams and six Canadian teams, with two more expansion teams planned for the 2010 season. Though the PDL does have some paid players, it also has many teams that are made up entirely or almost entirely of college soccer players who use the league as an opportunity to play competitive soccer in front of professional scouts during the summer, while retaining amateur status and NCAA eligibility. In addition to MLS and the USL, the United States Adult Soccer Association governs amateur soccer competition for adults throughout the United States, which is effectively the amateur fifth-division of soccer in the United States. The USASA sanctions regional tournaments that allow entry into the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the oldest continuous soccer competition in the United States. This competition pits teams from all five levels of the American soccer pyramid against each other each year, similar to England's FA Cup.

Women's soccer in the United States is also played at the professional level. The professional first-division women's soccer league in the U.S. is Women's Professional Soccer, which has operated exclusively in the United States since its launch in 2009. Seven teams competed in the league's first season, and eight will compete in 2010, with one of the charter teams folding and two new teams entering the league. The USL's W-League is currently the women's semi-professional second-division league, which contains 30 U.S.-based teams and seven Canadian-based teams. This league serves roughly the same purpose for women's soccer as the USL's PDL serves for men's soccer, in that it allows collegiate players to maintain NCAA eligibility while continuing to develop their game against quality opponents. There is no equivalent to the U.S. Open Cup in the women's game currently.

Despite the growth of men's and women's professional soccer in the United States in the last few decades, by far the largest category of soccer in the United States, at least in terms of participation, is boys and girls youth soccer. Though organized locally by organizations all over the United States, there are three main youth soccer organizations working nationwide through affiliated local associations. The United States Youth Soccer Association boasts over three million players between the ages of five and 19, while American Youth Soccer Organization has more than 300,000 players between the ages of four and 19. Finally, the USL offers a number of youth leagues, including the Super-20 League and the Super Y-League, which have almost 1,000 teams and tens of thousands of players from the ages of 13 to 20. This makes soccer one of the most played sports by children in the United States.

The overall league structure in the United States is significantly different from that used in almost all the rest of the world, but similar to that used by other North American team sports leagues, in that there is no system of promotion and relegation between lower and higher leagues, but rather a minor league system. In addition, teams playing in American soccer leagues are not private clubs founded independently of the league that join a league in order to ensure regular fixtures, but are instead usually franchises of the league itself. Finally, the soccer leagues in the United States also incorporate features common to other American sports leagues, most notably the determination of champions by playoffs between the top teams after the conclusion of a league season that uses an imbalanced schedule, as opposed to a league season using a balanced schedule, but without playoffs. This means that rather than playing a balanced schedule in which each team plays every team at home and away the same number of times to determine the best team (since each team functionally plays the same schedule), U.S. sports leagues play a regionally-dominated schedule (often necessary due to the large size of the United States) with imbalances in the schedule being sorted out by a knockout tournament featuring the league's best teams. However, in several ways, American soccer leagues have become more similar to leagues in the rest of the world in recent years. MLS and USL now allow games to end in ties, which were initially avoided via a penalty shootout if scores were level at the end of play. This was done to avoid alienating mainstream American sports fans, who are not accustomed to tie games, but actually had the unintended consequence of alienating soccer purists who saw the change as an "Americanization" of the sport. MLS began allowing ties in the 2005 season. Additionally, MLS and USL also used upward-counting clocks that do not stop for stoppages in play, and instead add on time before half time and full time. A downward-counting clock that stops for dead balls and ends the game when it reaches zero is still in use in American high school and college soccer (except for private high schools in Texas, which use FIFA rules), as well as most other American sports, but was and is completely foreign to soccer played outside the United States. MLS adopted the international clock in 2000. Finally, until recently, the front of teams' shirts in MLS and the USL did not bear advertisements, as commercial uniform sponsorship is uncommon in American sports. However, starting in the mid 2000s, clubs were allowed to accept corporate sponsorship on the front of their shirts.

Popularity of soccer in the United States

Leagues outside the United States and international soccer have also become more popular in the last decade, largely due to increased television coverage of soccer from around the world for the first time in the United States. In addition to increased coverage from the traditional media, the U.S. several national networks devoted mostly or completely to covering the sport. Soccer-specific channels like Fox Soccer Channel, Setanta Sports North America, and Gol TV (available in both Spanish and English); Spanish-language channels like Telemundo, Telefutura, Galavisión, ESPN Deportes, Fox Sports en Español and mainstream sports networks ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Classic, and Fox Sports Net provide weekly coverage of England's Premier League, Spain's La Liga, Italy's Serie A, the FA Cup, the Football League Cup, the Football League Championship, the UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Europa League, the CONCACAF Champions League, the SuperLiga, and many more competitions. In addition, these networks also provide coverage of the FIFA World Cup, the UEFA European Football Championship, Copa América, the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the FIFA Confederations Cup, the FIFA Club World Cup, United States men's, women's, and youth national team matches when these events take place. Finally, in addition to matches, these channels provide news programs and other information previously unavailable to U.S. viewers. The rise of these media outlets means that soccer fans living in the United States now have near constant access to programming about the sport in a way comparable to those living in Europe or Latin America.

The English and Spanish-language telecasts of the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final combined to attract an estimated 16.9 million American viewers, comparable to the average viewership of the 2005 World Series.[10] Interestingly, Univision paid more than three times as much for the Spanish-language television rights for the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups as ABC paid for the English-language rights to the same competitions.[11] In 2007, the CONCACAF Gold Cup attracted record television viewership, and in the case of one particular group stage match, it was the most-watched primetime program on any network that night among 18-49 males. The Univision telecast of the final between the United States and Mexico was the third-most watched Spanish-language program of all-time in the United States, beaten only by two FIFA World Cup finals matches.

One factor contributing to the relatively slow pace of soccer's growth in popularity[citation needed] is the competitive nature amongst various American youth sports programs, primarily centered around community clubs in the pre-teen years and secondary school teams thereafter. In some regions of the U.S., high school soccer and American football are both played in the fall and a student generally cannot devote time to both.[citation needed] Until the 1980s, most high schools in the U.S. did not offer soccer at all, and youth soccer programs were extremely rare until the 1970s.[citation needed] Thus, older generations of Americans living today grew up with virtually no exposure to the sport.

As youth soccer programs have grown since the 1970s, however, increasing numbers of Americans, having played the game in their youth, are now avid spectators, especially[citation needed] in the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic, Texas, South Florida, and California. Most cities with MLS teams have large fan bases, and cities with USL teams have support on par with minor league teams in other sports.[citation needed] In addition, as Latin American immigration increases throughout the entire nation, so is the popularity of soccer.

In recent decades, more and more youth sports organizations have turned to soccer as either a supplement to or a replacement for American football in their programs.[citation needed] This is primarily for economic reasons, as cash-strapped programs find it more difficult to justify the high costs of American football, due to the large amount of expensive equipment required, while at the same time the insurance risks associated with American football are far greater. Simultaneously, with increased urbanization, American high schools have grown to the point where most offer both sports in their fall sports seasons.[citation needed] Due to the rising number of youths playing, the term soccer mom is used in North American social, cultural and political discourse, broadly referring to a middle- or upper-middle class woman working and having school-age children.

Although soccer in the United States has gained more recognition with the arrival of David Beckham and Cuauhtémoc Blanco in Major League Soccer and increased success of the United States men's and women's national soccer teams, soccer viewership is dwarfed by viewership of the country's four traditional major professional leagues. The "Big Four" North American sports (American football, basketball, baseball, and ice hockey) are followed to a much greater extent, especially when including the collegiate level of these sports, than soccer. One explanation of this is that the National Football League, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, and National Hockey League are near-universally considered to be the highest professional level of competition in their respective sports, something that is not presently true about Major League Soccer. In addition, individual sports like auto racing (especially the indigenous NASCAR circuit), tennis, and golf are currently more popular than soccer as spectator sports in the United States.[citation needed]

However, there are signs that, if top-level soccer has not yet gained wide acceptance,[citation needed] it has at least gained a foothold in the U.S. With careful cost controls, soccer-specific stadiums, and limited expansion, some MLS clubs became profitable for the first time in the mid 2000s, and Forbes magazine found that three clubs were already valued at $40 million or more, with the Los Angeles Galaxy worth $100 million.[12] The league's 2007 and 2009 expansion to Toronto and Seattle, respectively, have proven highly successful, with league-leading ticket and merchandise sales, capped by a sold-out attendances for friendlies against Real Madrid of Spain and Chelsea of England.[13]. In addition, the 2009 World Football Challenge drew large crowds around the country. Chelsea's four-game stint in America drew record crowds for a visiting foreign team.[14]

The United States has also shown a heightened interest in international soccer. UEFA Euro 2008 was highly successful, especially for a competition that did not feature the United States or David Beckham's England. The 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup Final featuring the United States attracted almost 4 million viewers on ESPN, making it the fourth-most-watched U.S. men's national team game in the history of the network.[15] The 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal matches drew over 82,000 to Cowboys Stadium.

Many writers have speculated on why soccer has not gained significant popularity in the United States as it is in most[citation needed] other countries. Theories include that other sports cornered the market before professional soccer could prosper,[citation needed] that soccer is a "foreign game,"[citation needed] that Americans do not dominate the game,[citation needed] that there are too many draws,[citation needed] and that there is not enough scoring.[citation needed] The United States has many popular sports, and this proliferation and abundance of choice is perhaps the biggest reason of all[citation needed] that soccer does not dominate the sporting landscape in the way it does in most[citation needed] regions of the world where few other sports[citation needed] have large mainstream followings.

American men in foreign leagues

Since the early 1990s, many American men have found opportunities playing soccer at the highest levels of foreign leagues. Among the first Americans to become regulars in foreign leagues were John Harkes at Sheffield Wednesday in England, Eric Wynalda at Saarbrücken in Germany, Kasey Keller at Borussia Mönchengladbach in Germany, and Earnie Stewart at NAC Breda in the Netherlands. (Stewart is a special case; he is the Netherlands-born son of American and Dutch parents, and grew up in the Dutch football system.)

The following is a list of Americans playing in foreign leagues:

In Croatia's Prva Nogometna Liga
In Denmark's Superliga
In England's Premier League
In England's Football League Championship
In England's Football League One
In France's Ligue 1
In Germany's Fußball-Bundesliga
In Germany's 2. Fußball-Bundesliga
In Italy's Serie A
In Italy's Lega Pro Prima Divisione
In Mexico's Primera División
In Norway's Tippeligaen
In Portugal's Liga
In Scotland's Premier League
In Sweden's Allsvenskan

During 1990 Dale Mulholland played for Lokomotiv Moscow in 1 Soviet Football League. [1], [2]

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U.S. women professional players today

The success of the women's national team has not translated into success for women's professional soccer in the United States. The first attempt at a national women's soccer league was the Women's United Soccer Association. It featured successful American players Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, and many other national team stars including Germany's Birgit Prinz. The WUSA ceased operation at the end of 2003. Many of those involved in the league worked to restart a professional women's league in 2009 under the banner of Women's Professional Soccer, initially with seven teams and has expanded to nine teams for the 2010 season. The 2009 season was successful, with Sky Blue FC winning the title in a cinderella story matter and the league met its financial goals. The W-League of the United Soccer Leagues and the WPSL have also had some success with teams in cities all across the country.

America's approach to growing the game among women has served as a model for other countries' development programs for women at all levels. The relative lack of attention afforded the women's game in traditional soccer-playing countries may also have contributed to the United States' early dominance of the international women's game. Another contributing factor is the role of women within American society, which includes relative equality (especially rejecting hardened gender roles) for women in the United States relative to many other countries. This is also reflected in official government policy regarding women in athletics, specifically Title IX, which requires college and public school athletics programs to support men's and women's athletics equally. A final factor is the lack of competition from American football for female athletic talent;[citation needed] since American football is generally not played by females,[16] far more high-caliber female athletes are available to play soccer.

American soccer leagues and associations

United States national teams

The United States men's and women's national soccer teams represent the United States in international competition.

Men's national team

The men's national team competes in the FIFA World Cup and the FIFA Confederations Cup, in addition to the CONCACAF Gold Cup and other competitions by invitation.

Until the 1990s, the United States national team were regarded as one of the world's weaker teams. Highlights before the latter stages of the 20th Century, were firstly finishing third in the first ever World Cup held in 1930. After qualifying for the 1934 World Cup, and withdrawing in 1938, the next World Cup participation came in the 1950 tournament, causing an upset by beating England 1-0 in their fourth group match. After 1950, the USA never qualified for the World Cup again until 1990.

After the 1990 World Cup, the USA qualified automatically as hosts in the 1994 World Cup, losing to Brazil in the last 16. From then on, the team has qualified for every World Cup since, up to and including the 2010 World Cup, with the best performance before 2010 being to reach the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup, losing to Germany.

On the regional stage, the national team has also improved, with a record up to 2009 of reaching the final of the biannual CONCACAF Gold Cup eight times since 1989, winning it four times, in 1991, 2002, 2005, and 2007. As 2007 CONCACAF winners, they also progressed to the final of the 2009 edition of the FIFA Confederations Cup, narrowly losing in the final 3-2 to five times World Champions Brazil.

Womens national team

The women's national team played its first match on August 18, 1985. It competes in the FIFA Women's World Cup, the Summer Olympics, and the Algarve Cup, in addition to the CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup and other competitions by invitation. The United States women's team has been one of the most dominant in the history of women's soccer, having won two World Cups (in 1991 and 1999), three Gold Medals (in 1996, 2004, and 2008), and six Algarve Cups (in 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, and 2008).

National teams of U.S. unincorporated territories

The following national teams of U.S. unincorporated territories compete in their corresponding regions. Their governing bodies are either member or associate in the corresponding regional federations. For all but American Samoa, players for these territories are, like most local residents, U.S. citizens. Natives of American Samoa are U.S. nationals, but not U.S. citizens.

See also

Footnotes

  1. ^ See the articles Football (word) and Names for association football for more detailed explanations of the differing names for soccer.
  2. ^ Stamp, Terence and Pele (2001). History of Soccer: The Beautiful Game
  3. ^ "Beckham in Mission Unnecessary". BBC. 2007-07-18. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/6904077.stm. 
  4. ^ "Twellman scores in Revs’ draw at Chivas USA: Revs play to 1-1 draw in front of largest MLS crowd ever". New England Revolution. 2006-08-06. http://www.revolutionsoccer.net/search/index.cfm?ac=searchdetail&pid=20327&pcid=115. 
  5. ^ "Galaxy falls to Barcelona despite Beckham goal". ESPN. 2009-08-01. http://soccernet.espn.go.com/news/story?id=664678&cc=5901. 
  6. ^ Roger Allaway (2001-02-14). "Were the Oneidas playing soccer or not?". http://www.sover.net/~spectrum/oneidas.html. Retrieved 2007-06-25. 
  7. ^ Gardner, Paul. The Simplest Game, Macmillan, 1996
  8. ^ thenasl
  9. ^ The Olympic tournament is far more prestigious in women's football than in the men's game, largely because the women's tournament is contested by full national sides without age restrictions. The men's tournament is generally restricted to under-23 players.
  10. ^ Richard Sandomir, "TV SPORTS; Ratings Up, But Networks Can Improve", The New York Times, July 11, 2006, p. D1
  11. ^ Sailer, Steve (2006-07-17). "One World Cup". The American Conservative. http://www.amconmag.com/2006/2006_07_17/article.html. Retrieved 2006-07-16. 
  12. ^ . http://www.forbes.com/2008/09/09/mls-soccer-beckham-biz-sports-cz_kb_0909mlsvalues.html. 
  13. ^ . http://web.mlsnet.com/news/mls_news.jsp?ymd=20090718&content_id=5927030&vkey=news_mls&fext=.jsp. 
  14. ^ . http://soccernet.espn.go.com/columns/story?id=663313&sec=world&root=world&cc=5901. 
  15. ^ . http://voices.washingtonpost.com/soccerinsider/2009/06/espns_usa-brazil_numbers_conti.html. 
  16. ^ (PDF) 2008–09 High School Athletics Participation Survey, National Federation of High School Associations . Downloadable from the NFHS site here. Page 1 shows that over 1.1 million boys played high school football in 2008–09, compared with just over 800 girls.

References


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