owl, yes, “soccer”, as we call it here, is becoming more popular on the professional level. A lot of pro leagues have come and gone, mainly due to excessive spending and too many washed-up foreign players, but the current one looks here to stay. One can trace its popularity growth to fan alienation from baseball resulting from the players’ strike in 1994. Americans started to realize that other summer sports were interesting to watch as well as play, too.
Soccer is the most popular kids’ sport in the country in terms of number of participants, and there are growing numbers of young players staying with the sport into their teen years, when it matters most to their development. Lack of top coaching talent for older players has hindered that, so the best players tend to get sent to Europe for development - since that’s a real barrier, their numbers are small.
As many young girls as boys play soccer, and that has made the US women’s team already the best in the world. The final of the Women’s World Cup vs. China a couple of years ago was one of the best-played recent matches by either sex, and no, we didn’t think nothing had happened just because of the 0-0 score. The Rose Bowl was packed and the TV ratings were great, and the team’s stars are actual media celebrities here now. The best women players from the rest of the world actually come here to play professionally.
Joe-Max Moore and Kasey Keller, both in the Premiership, have been mentioned, but the #1 US goalie is Brad Friedel (Liverpool, I think), and the star midfielder is Claudio Reyna of Celtic. Several other starters you might not have heard from, since they play here. Jonathan Harkes, once of Sheffield Wednesday, is back on the team, too.
Yes, in World Cup terms, the US national team is still overmatched, but it’s no longer a surprise for them to qualify - it’s become expected. With an increasing flow of talent from the youth programs in every suburb, the pro league and the national team will keep getting better over the years.
Naturally, we’ve tended to think that things we couldn’t kick the rest of the world’s butts in must not be important, anyway. Now, with the team improving, we’re starting to think more highly of the sport itself.
BTW, look up who eliminated the top-seeded England side in the 1950 tournament. Pity we couldn’t capitalize on it after that, though.