Fans in Washington react at a watch party for the World Cup soccer match between Iran and the United … [+]
It’s a question we’ve been hearing seemingly every four years since 1994, when the United States hosted the World Cup and made it to the round of 16 following an unlikely group stage victory over Colombia: Is the United States close to becoming a true soccer nation?
The answer every time has been no. Despite the excitement drummed up by numerous U.S. Women’s World Cup wins (and men’s World Cup losses), soccer fever has never really caught. People get excited during the global tournament, then essentially go back to ignoring soccer when it’s over.
Still … this time, things could be different. Really. Truly.
According to Nielsen data, this year’s U.S. men’s national team delivered its biggest group stage average ever, with an average of 11.7 million viewers tuning in. With the U.S. poised to play in the round of 16 for just the fifth time, soccer excitement is at a pitch. And there’s actually some infrastructure that could help it last. Here are five reasons the U.S. could finally become a true soccer nation.
The face of the men’s national team lived up to his pre-tournament hype when he scored the game-winner against Iran in the U.S.’s win-or-go-home game this week. It drew huge ratings, and it raised Pulisic’s profile even further. He has starred in ad campaigns for the World Cup and plays for Chelsea in the Premier
Record ratings for U.S. games (the match with England drew an all-time best for an English-language men’s soccer broadcast) are understandable. But the big numbers for non-U.S. games signal interest in the game itself, going behind national pride. The Brazil-Serbia game, for instance, became the most-watched non-U.S. World Cup group stage game ever on English-language TV, averaging 6.2 million viewers.
The big numbers for the World Cup were perhaps predictable since other soccer formats have been growing. Viewership for this year’s MLS Cup and NWSL final were also up, suggesting an appetite for soccer that goes beyond the international stage.
A growing Hispanic population in the United States, who play and watch soccer in significant numbers, and high participation levels at the youth level have boosted the sport’s popularity. A Gallup poll earlier this year found that 31% of Americans say they’re soccer fans, an all-time high.
Soccer surged in popularity nearly 30 years ago, when it last hosted the World Cup. With a guaranteed berth in the 2026 Cup as host country and anticipation sure to grow for the live event, soccer seems in good shape to sustain this year’s gains.