Reed years from 1975-1978, very near the end

Reed Kreger

Anthropology of Sports

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Final Paper

America’s Complicated
Relationship with Soccer

            Though
soccer has never been and probably never will be the most popular sport in the
United States, its growth over the last decade has been relatively unprecedented
in American sports history. Obviously, its roots trace back much further than
the mid 2000’s, with the most commonly held belief being that soccer was
introduced to the United States in the 1860’s through Ellis Island. However, research
conducted in 2013 by Scott Crawford showed that rather than through Ellis
Island, soccer actually came through the ports of New Orleans via Western
European immigrants who all brought the game from their countries (Crawford, 2013).
Not long after its emergence in the United States, there existed some early examples
of governance of the sport with the creation of the American Football
Association and the American League of Professional Football among many other
groups near the turn of the 20th century. In the early 20th
century, two main soccer leagues had arisen in the United States: the United
States Football Association and the American Soccer League. Interestingly, at
this time, the ASL was actually the second most popular sports league in the
country, behind only Major League Baseball. However, the war between these two
leagues, combined with the Great Depression of the late 1920’s led to the end
of the ASL as well as to the absence of the whole sport across the country. Since
this fall in popularity, there has obviously been some resurgence. Beginning in
the 1960’s, there was a large emphasis placed on reestablishing soccer as a
major sport played in universities, with the inception of a national
intercollegiate soccer tournament held annually. Since this reemergence of the
sport, we have seen several small spikes in interest that have led to overall
growth in interest, like when the New York Cosmos signed Pele for three years
from 1975-1978, very near the end of his career. This ignited some interest
from American fans, but still failed to push soccer to the forefront of the
sports scene in the United States. Few growth periods have compared to that
which we have seen since the turn of the 21st century. Three of the
most pertinent factors that have catalyzed this newfound growth are the
emergence and growth of Major League Soccer (MLS), the increased accessibility
of media, and also the creation and rise of the popular video game series FIFA.

            In order to
appreciate the resurgence of the MLS and its relative success over the last
decade, one must first examine the horrific state that the MLS was in during
its first several years. The inception of the MLS actually came as a result of
a pledge that was made by the United States Soccer Federation as a condition to
the bid by the United States for the 1994 World Cup being awarded by FIFA. Seemingly,
if not for this condition, the MLS may not exist today or may be in its early
years (relative to European leagues, it still is). The MLS was not actually
officially created until 1995, a year after the World Cup. Executives were
looking to cash in on the heightened interest in soccer after hosting some of
the biggest names in the sport by drawing players from foreign leagues, namely
Carlos Valderrama, Jorge Campos, and Alexi Lalas. However, from the beginning
it was clear that mistakes were made in the way that the MLS developed. From its
onset, the MLS faced the issue of appealing to an American crowd, to whom they
did not know how to market their league. Taking rules from college and high
school soccer, they implemented two changes that would negatively affect the
MLS’s appeal: the shootout, and the clock counting down. These changes
alienated traditional soccer fans in the United States and had no significant
effect on those who were not already soccer fans. Attendance dipped
dramatically after the first season, sending some teams into insolvency or
bankruptcy, losing the league hundreds of millions of dollars over the time
from its inception until 2003, when things began to change.

            In 2003,
the MLS finally adopted the IFAB rules, which