The Impact of Soccer in the US, and Its Continued Rise in Our Culture
By Jack Bluestine
Soccer has been steadily increasing its influence amongst the American public. This once-niche sport has made significant strides in capturing the attention and hearts of Americans. With events like the ongoing 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the highly anticipated European friendlies on display, and the upcoming 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup – set to take place right on American soil – the future of soccer in the US is shining brighter than ever before. As the world’s attention turns to the backdrop of many iconic American cities, there seems to be a yearning for a collective moment that will galvanize the nation's enthusiasm for soccer, solidifying its place in our culture.
Enter Lionel Messi. One of the most polarizing figures to ever step foot on the pitch, Messi’s arrival to the US to play for Inter Miami CF has revolutionized the way Americans will watch and interact with the world’s number one sport. The deal that helped coax Messi over from Europe will surely pay huge dividends in helping grow the MLS fanbase. Since he signed on, viewership has skyrocketed, attendance & jersey sales as well, and with MLS’ deal on Apple TV, it allows for 100+ other countries the ability to tune in and watch, substantially increasing the value of this deal overall. Technological advances such as the growth of social media and streaming platforms are creating new and easily accessible opportunities for Americans to indulge in the Messi mania. His impact has been seen early on with his debut for Inter Miami attracting a collection of high-profile celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, LeBron James, and Serena Williams. Attendance was well-worth the increased ticket price as Messi had a game-winning 94th-minute goal to secure the win. After the 2022 World Cup, the presence of soccer in the States is booming, creating growth amongst the biggest leagues in the US. With an icon like Messi as the face of the league, the MLS can begin to grow in many different avenues. This is a drastic change that no one in the early days of the MLS’ existence thought would occur.
What has always played second fiddle to the core four sports in America (NBA, NHL, MLB, NFL), the MLS has quietly grown and built its own unique empire within the US. After its initial rebranding in the early 2000s, the MLS changed directions to fit the styles of European soccer clubs worldwide. The US-based soccer clubs had names switched from the likes of the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny to more classic club names like NYC FC and Inter Miami CF. This switch helped further acclimate the US teams to the global standard of soccer worldwide. They also expanded the league overall, going from 10 to 29 teams, with plans to expand to 30 teams in 2025 – the hope being to eventually become a 32-team league. This expansion allows for the continued growth of soccer in cities across America, giving fans a new tie into the sport on a localized level. The MLS has made these numerous changes to keep pace within American sports culture, aiming to be seen in the same tier as the core four.
The impact that European teams and leagues have had on this growth can’t go unnoticed. This summer, America has witnessed some of the top European clubs across Europe come to the US and play in exhibition matches in front of American crowds. Clubs such as FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Arsenal, and AC Milan have all taken part in the Soccer Champions Tour, to give a glimpse at the excitement of European competition in the US market. These efforts have paid off, with the average attendance of these matches being about 55,000. Real Madrid and FC Barcelona set an attendance record in late July. The match was held at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas, with just over 82,000 fans, the record for the highest-attended El Clasico in US history. Progression has been tremendous this summer throughout the country, as people are all starting to take a serious look at the rise of soccer in the US.
The ongoing Women’s World Cup has also helped build and increase the exposure of soccer culture to the US. After the US Men’s team got knocked out in the Round of 16 in December, all eyes turned to the USWNT. With a third straight World Cup trophy on the line, a feat that had yet to be accomplished on both the women’s and men’s sides of the tournament, the hype for the women in 2023 was palpable. Headlined by stars such as Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, and Julie Ertz, all looking to finish off their illustrious careers by adding another trophy for their home country into the books, this event held a lot of promise. Unfortunately, the USWNT was recently knocked out by Sweden in the round of 16, their first time not advancing to the quarterfinals – ever. This shocking exit so early in the World Cup, is drawing national attention to the USWNT again. Many have speculated if they are past their golden era and if a rebuild is needed in order to be back in the spotlight. Talks have begun on how the talent gap in women’s soccer has closed and there is a need to change to get back to global prominence.
Outside of the negative press surrounding the USWNT’s unexpected exit, the highlights from this World Cup have created major buzz in American culture. The Women’s World Cup has provided many worthy stories which help to garner the attention of individuals outside of the typical soccer audience. Linda Caicedo of Columbia became the first soccer player (male or female) to score in three world cups in a calendar year. Despite inadequate funding from their federation, Jamaica’s team made it past the group stages for the first time, and Morocco has made headlines with defender Nouhaila Benzina being the first player to actively wear a hijab while competing at a senior-level global tournament. The celebration of and discussion around soccer is taking shape in America at unprecedented levels.
As many tournaments and events in the soccer world continue to commence on US soil over the next couple of years, especially the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup, the impact and importance of soccer in the US will only continue to grow. Messi has helped to pave the way for a global audience to be interested in the MLS, and the MLS followed by continuing their expansion and involvement in new communities. What is known as the world’s most popular sport outside of the States, soccer will continue its rapid growth in American culture. Five years from now, it is likely that MLS and soccer generally will be of the utmost importance in our society. It won’t take away from what the core four has built, but will add a completely new element to sports culture in the US. The love and compassion of clubs’ fan bases abroad will echo into America’s foundation for support of the game and the impact it will have on our society will be one that continues to enhance the rise of soccer culture in the US.