If you follow sports and you ask the question "when will soccer arrive in America?" then you've clearly had your head in the sand for the last decade. Soccer has arrived and it's been here for a few years now. The game is already thriving as a recreational sport but it has put down very strong roots as a spectator sport in this country on both the domestic and international levels.
While some have been busy poring over labor issues facing the NBA and NFL, the domestic league for soccer, MLS, could have its highest average attendance since its inaugural season, somewhere north of 18,000 per game, putting the league on the level with the NBA and NHL. The league is set to add its nineteenth team next year, the Montreal Impact, in a newly renovated soccer-specific stadium. In 2012, 16 of the 19 teams will play in their own soccer-specific stadiums and will average crowds that are on par with typical NBA and NHL teams, and will in some cases surpass MLB crowds.
Sure, the local team, the New England Revolution, doesn't draw well but that is a complex situation as the Revs are in a transition phase on the field, have some off-the-field issues with their most diehard fans and desperately need to move to their own stadium in Somerville or Revere. In order for the game to have reached the level it currently has in the United States MLS had to build the necessary infrastructure in stadiums and implement strict league financial rules to avoid the problems that brought down NASL. Moving MLS teams out of cavernous NFL and college football stadiums is the best thing the league has done since its inception in 1995. It gave teams physical assets as well as improved the fan experience tenfold. Hopefully the Revolution can get out of Gillette sooner rather than later as that place just won't work for them long-term.
The domestic league is flourishing but that isn't the only indicator of soccer’s arrival in America. The television ratings for the men's national team appearances in the 2010 World Cup were up 68% over 2006 and their game against Ghana drew higher ratings than both the NBA Finals and the World Series. The Gold Cup Final, which the USA lost 4-2 to Mexico, drew higher ratings than the Stanley Cup Finals.
When not qualifying for the World Cup or reaching the finals of the Gold Cup the national team hosts exhibition matches that bring capacity crowds around the country, selling out the likes of Soldier Field, RFK Stadium, New Meadowlands Stadium, Gillette Stadium, the Rose Bowl, Reliant Stadium, University of Phoenix Stadium, and Lincoln Financial Field. The Mexican national team and major international club teams routinely tour the United States as they know they can fill the same stadiums with capacity crowds, too.
The women's national team has grabbed the nation's attention again with a thrilling come-from-behind win over powerhouse Brazil. There is a women's professional soccer league, WPS, that has six teams and is doing ok, too. Boston's local club, the Boston Breakers, leads the league in attendance.
So the soccer haters and grey-haired sports writers who can't wrap their heads around the simplest of games can keep pretending that soccer hasn't arrived but the facts prove them wrong. Soccer is no longer the sport of the future; it’s here now.
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