Things are changing for professional soccer in the United States.
Earlier this year, Orlando City SC and NYCFC squared off in front of a crowd of 62,538 screaming fans. Both of these teams symbolize the growth of soccer in America and are examples of what the MLS will become in the near future. Both teams featured an all time great in European and International soccer, with Orlando fielding 2007 Balon d’Or winner Kaka, while NYCFC had Spain’s all-time leading goal scorer David Villa playing up top.
In Orlando, the support for the Lions is real. The most noticeable effort of the Orlando City marketing team is the army of magnets that they released to the public. By handing them out after games and starting a social media campaign with the hashtag “#MagnetMonday”, the team has given everyone in the Central Florida area the chance to show their support, and the public has done exactly that. Nowadays, it is impossible to drive down Interstate-4 without seeing the team emblem on every other car. People in Orlando care about soccer, and they want to show it.
What is happening in Orlando is not an anomaly. Soccer is becoming much more popular everywhere in the United States. An ESPN poll released in 2014 showed that the MLS was just as well-liked as the MLB to kids from 12- to 17-year-olds. A Harris poll earlier this year suggested that Men’s soccer had overtaken college basketball in “favorite sport to watch”. The Seattle Sounders had on average over 44,000 fans attend each game in 2013, which would place it in the top 50 in the world for attendance.
Many European stars are now heading for the States as their careers abroad begin to dwindle. This works to the advantage of both the players, as they have the chance to showcase their skills on a new team, and the MLS, as they profit from the exposure of popular, international stars of the game. David Beckham paved the road for players to come to the United States and continue to have a successful career, and many stars are following that road. Even in this past year alone, players such as Steven Gerrard, Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, and many more have joined MLS teams.
More and more players are saying that they could see themselves closing out their careers playing in the United States. Recently, players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Luis have said they would like to move to the MLS at some point. Both of these incredible, high-profile players are only a small fraction of the talent that the MLS will see in the future. While some players see it as the place to end their careers, other high profile players now see it as the place to spend the high-point of their careers.
For example, 28-year-old Sebastian Giovinco was a forward at Juventus last year, and now plays for Toronto FC. Giovinco has set the league ablaze this year as he is currently second in goals scored with 19 goals in 28 games. The LA Galaxy added 26-year old Giovani Dos Santos to their roster this summer. Dos Santos played for FC Barcelona earlier in his career, showing how the MLS continues to add high-quality talent to its ranks.
The growth will only continue for the MLS. More and more players will move to American teams, and the quality of those teams will continue to improve. Although two new franchises began play this past year, more are on the way. Los Angeles FC and Atlanta are slated to begin playing in 2017, with Minnesota United expected to join in 2018. In addition, David Beckham recently bid for stadium land in Miami approved, meaning that Miami might very well have an MLS franchise in the near future.
The other major American sports leagues should be scared. With the influx of world-class talent, many new, exciting franchises, and raucous, dedicated fan bases, the MLS will be competing for the title of most popular American professional sports league sooner than most people believe.