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The Development of Soccer in the United States

May 23, 2008
For many decades, soccer in the United States has been regarded as a fringe sport, usually played only at amateur level. The enduring appeal of American Football, Baseball and Basketball has ensured that unlike in other parts of the world, soccer has not developed into a major popular national pastime.

There have been several attempts at reversing this by enticing established global stars and securing the FIFA World Cup in 1994. In the last few years there are positive signs that theses attempts may be effective as the MLS continues to grow by signing players such as David Beckham.

The Early Years: There is evidence to suggest that soccer was played in the early parts of the last century in the United States, but despite this, there was no professional league established in the country until the 1960s.

The North American Soccer League was a product of regional interest in the game, in particular in areas surrounding New York and New Jersey. During this time, the most prominent club was the New York Cosmos. It managed to attract famous global soccer players such as Franz Beckenbauer and Pele to the club to try to encourage interest in soccer.

However, despite the star names, the league failed to achieve this goal. Many of the players recruited by the Cosmos were regarded as players who had reached the end of their careers and simply were there to collect the money. The league eventually folded in 1984 and the Cosmos followed a year later.

The 1994 FIFA World Cup: Much to the disdain of many soccer experts, the World Cup in 1994 was held in the United States. FIFA hoped that by showcasing the game directly to Americans in their own country, many would develop an interest in the sport. The tournament as a whole was regarded as a great success. The United States soccer team managed to qualify from the early stages of the tournament before narrowly losing 1-0 to the eventual world champions Brazil.

The decision to hold the competition in the United States proved to be a good move as record attendances demonstrated an interest in soccer across the country.

Major League Soccer: The decision taken by FIFA to award the 1994 World Cup was given on the basis that a professional soccer league would be established in the United States soon after. In 1996 the Major League Soccer was formed to fulfil this promise.

In the initial immediate aftermath of the World Cup the league sustained this interest and attendances were good. However, the national team's exit from the 1998 World Cup after losing all three games coincided with a rapid decline in the MLS fortunes. Dwindling attendances and a lack of revenue threatened to prove that soccer had no future in the United States.

Since the 2002 World Cup in Asia, the MLS have recovered considerably. The league began to develop a series of talented young players such as Landon Donovan and Freddy Adu, who began to attract overseas interest from the established European teams.

In 2007 the MLS introduced the Designated Player Rule that aimed to allow the teams in the MLS to compete financially with Europe's top clubs for the world's best soccer players. This proposition allowed them to sign one player each season with wages above the salary cap. The best example of this to date is English soccer player David Beckham transferring to the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007.

The MLS has increased its appeal in recent years and its proponents now hope that many more world stars follow Beckham.
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