In the past 10 years, soccer culture has exploded onto the United States scene. A true phenomenon, many Americans are embracing the sport that dominates every facet of international life for their own. In the past, it was incredibly easy to look down on the once weak soccer leagues and culture of the US, however there is finally international respect for American soccer supporters and teams.
Once insignificant, failing clubs are now backed by celebrities– soccer stars, investors, and entertainers alike. Diplo owns part of Arizona United SC; Ronaldo, Ft. Lauderdale Strikers; and Paolo Maldini, Miami FC. There are over three million youth players in the States– up 89% since 1990, according to US Soccer. Instead of the classic Giants jerseys, schools are now littered with Barcelona and FC Bayern Munich apparel.
This quick love and appreciation of the sport has come after decades of grueling failures for stateside soccer. There was a long drought in national support for the sport, as the US Men’s National team failed to qualify for any World Cups from 1950-1990. Following the 40 years, however, soccer experienced a resurgence of adoration, which was only further fueled by the 1994 World Cup, where the US hosted. Especially with the international successes of our Women’s National Team– most recently the winners of the 2015 World Cup– names like Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd, and Alex Morgan are regarded as celebrity icons and the goddesses of the sport.
While there are statistics and concrete reasons for why soccer has grown so much within the States, it is also due to the accepting nature of the sport as an international icon of friendly competition and cooperation. This is not to ignore the problems within certain club teams or federations– corruption in FIFA, sexism in terms of pay inequity, racial slurs on the pitch. Those problems are not invalidated by equally acknowledging how international and welcoming soccer is. English, Mandarin, Spanish…those are not the world’s languages. Soccer is. Although we do not live in a nation that regards soccer as a religion (yet), like the Brazil’s or the England’s of the world, it is incredibly important that our televisions reflect our national expansion of diversity and acceptance.
On a personal level, it has been fascinating to live through this evolution as someone who was born into a soccer loving family– generations of Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, and Celtic fans have come before me, and I have continued this tradition. It’s exciting to bicker with my friends over teams that I’ve grown up watching every Sunday morning and Wednesday afternoon– discussions that simply never occurred in elementary and middle school, when soccer was not as prominent. Soccer is reckoning with international stereotypes of what American sports culture signifies, and who knows? Maybe we will have a new pastime.
Graphics: Jessica Chang