For decades in the United States, soccer has long been advertised as the country’s “sport of the future." The originally foreign game was entirely an afterthought in the U.S. until 1994. That all changed when the U.S. had the opportunity to host soccer’s premiere event: the World Cup. Hosting the World Cup gave the game the jumpstart it needed to begin to pick up traction in the United States. Two years later, in the spring of 1996, Major League Soccer (MLS) kicked off its inaugural season.
Over the course of the next two decades, the league had its fair share of growing pains. Initial buzz around the shiny, new competition faded and MLS almost folded early on. The league has been forced to reinvent itself many times throughout its 23-year life span. Rules changed, stadiums built, competition restructured, teams founded or folded — all of this to arrive at the rendition of the league today.
Though MLS is entirely still a work in progress, the current iteration of the league is one that is beginning to demand attention. The league today is one of downtown stadiums, a mix of aging and rising stars and owners with genuine ambition for their teams.
Take the example of Atlanta United. Beginning play in 2017, the club took the perceived anti-soccer southern U.S. by storm. In 2018, Atlanta averaged a home attendance of over 50,000 spectators. On occasion, the club would draw crowds topping 70,000, filling the NFL stadium they play in to capacity. Atlanta’s on-field play also drew international attention. Star attacking duo Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron caught the eye of several European clubs, with the latter already signing for Newcastle United of the English Premier League.
Junior marketing major and MLS fan Ayush Narayan commented positively on the direction the league is taking. “Now with expansion teams like Atlanta, LAFC, even the new team in Cincinnati, they’ve all really stepped up their game with investing in youth and using local players. I think the game is growing rapidly," he said.
Atlanta United created a comprehensive soccer culture in their city within two years of the team’s first match. Not only has this happened in Atlanta, but in cities across America. Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC), founded in 2014, has revitalized the city's love of the beautiful game. LAFC has not only constructed a state-of-the-art stadium in downtown L.A., but has also filled it with notable talent such as Mexican superstar Carlos Vela. Right here in Los Angeles, we currently have the league’s best team (LAFC) and arguably the league’s best player (Zlatan Ibrahimovic). There is a lot to be excited about for soccer fans in the city of L.A.
In Ohio, FC Cincinnati has also already won over the city’s heart, stirring up a sizable buzz in the midst of their first season in the league. Anticipation has already begun to build in Miami, where next season the city will be getting its own team owned by MLS icon David Beckham. Wherever new MLS franchises pop up, expansion and passion for the game of soccer is sure to follow.
MLS is by no means a finished product. But it has taken many of the right steps in recent years to earn the attention of American sports audiences. For the sake of the global game, hopefully the U.S. will fully embrace soccer in the coming decades and build up the league to be the best it can be.
This is the opinion of Nick Rossi, a sophomore AIMS major from Orange, CA. Tweet comments to @LALoyolan or email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.