Reed KregerAnthropology of SportsFinal PaperAmerica’s ComplicatedRelationship with Soccer Thoughsoccer has never been and probably never will be the most popular sport in theUnited States, its growth over the last decade has been relatively unprecedentedin American sports history.
Obviously, its roots trace back much further thanthe mid 2000’s, with the most commonly held belief being that soccer wasintroduced to the United States in the 1860’s through Ellis Island. However, researchconducted in 2013 by Scott Crawford showed that rather than through EllisIsland, soccer actually came through the ports of New Orleans via WesternEuropean immigrants who all brought the game from their countries (Crawford, 2013).Not long after its emergence in the United States, there existed some early examplesof governance of the sport with the creation of the American FootballAssociation and the American League of Professional Football among many othergroups near the turn of the 20th century. In the early 20thcentury, two main soccer leagues had arisen in the United States: the UnitedStates Football Association and the American Soccer League. Interestingly, atthis time, the ASL was actually the second most popular sports league in thecountry, behind only Major League Baseball.
However, the war between these twoleagues, combined with the Great Depression of the late 1920’s led to the endof the ASL as well as to the absence of the whole sport across the country. Sincethis fall in popularity, there has obviously been some resurgence. Beginning inthe 1960’s, there was a large emphasis placed on reestablishing soccer as amajor sport played in universities, with the inception of a nationalintercollegiate soccer tournament held annually. Since this reemergence of thesport, we have seen several small spikes in interest that have led to overallgrowth in interest, like when the New York Cosmos signed Pele for three yearsfrom 1975-1978, very near the end of his career. This ignited some interestfrom American fans, but still failed to push soccer to the forefront of thesports scene in the United States. Few growth periods have compared to thatwhich we have seen since the turn of the 21st century. Three of themost pertinent factors that have catalyzed this newfound growth are theemergence and growth of Major League Soccer (MLS), the increased accessibilityof media, and also the creation and rise of the popular video game series FIFA.
In order toappreciate the resurgence of the MLS and its relative success over the lastdecade, one must first examine the horrific state that the MLS was in duringits first several years. The inception of the MLS actually came as a result ofa pledge that was made by the United States Soccer Federation as a condition tothe 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 earlyyears (relative to European leagues, it still is). The MLS was not actuallyofficially created until 1995, a year after the World Cup. Executives werelooking to cash in on the heightened interest in soccer after hosting some ofthe biggest names in the sport by drawing players from foreign leagues, namelyCarlos Valderrama, Jorge Campos, and Alexi Lalas.
However, from the beginningit was clear that mistakes were made in the way that the MLS developed. From itsonset, the MLS faced the issue of appealing to an American crowd, to whom theydid not know how to market their league. Taking rules from college and highschool soccer, they implemented two changes that would negatively affect theMLS’s appeal: the shootout, and the clock counting down.
These changesalienated traditional soccer fans in the United States and had no significanteffect on those who were not already soccer fans. Attendance dippeddramatically after the first season, sending some teams into insolvency orbankruptcy, losing the league hundreds of millions of dollars over the timefrom its inception until 2003, when things began to change. In 2003,the MLS finally adopted the IFAB rules, which