Soccer History USA: From Struggles to Successes

The Arrival of Soccer in the Land of Opportunity

Soccer History USA

Soccer, also known as football, is the world’s most popular sport, with an estimated 4 billion fans worldwide. Although it has been played for centuries in Europe, its popularity and history didn’t start in North America until much later.

The first recorded soccer game in the United States took place in 1869 between Princeton University and Rutgers University. However, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that soccer began gaining traction and becoming more widespread.

Early BeginningsSoccer History USA 

At the turn of the century, immigrant communities from Europe brought soccer with them to America. They formed their clubs and leagues, which often centered around ethnic communities like Italians or Germans. These clubs would play against each other and draw large crowds to watch their matches.

In 1913, the United States Football Association (now known as US Soccer) was founded to govern soccer in America. It oversaw amateur soccer competitions across the country and eventually became responsible for organizing national teams and professional leagues.

The Rise of Professional Soccer

Professional soccer began to take form in America during the 1920s with the formation of several semi-professional leagues. The American Soccer League (ASL) was created in 1921 as a fully professional league consisting mostly of immigrants who had arrived from Europe. Soon after, international superstars like Alexi Lalas started coming over to play on American soil.

During this period, professional soccer was a very different game than what we see today; there were no substitutions allowed except for goalkeepers who were injured or ejected from a match! Games were often rough-and-tumble affairs that resulted in numerous injuries.

The Struggles and Decline

The Great Depression hit American soccer hard during the 1930s; many teams struggled financially or folded altogether due to a lack of support. Additionally, World War II put a stop to soccer in America, as most able-bodied men were sent overseas to fight. By the time the war ended, many former players had moved on to other interests and soccer had lost much of its momentum in the USA.

By the 1960s and 1970s, professional soccer in America had all but disappeared. The NASL (North American Soccer League), which was formed in 1968 with high hopes of reviving American soccer on a more professional level, struggled financially and folded after its final season in 1984.

It seemed that soccer would remain a niche sport in America — enjoyed mostly by immigrants and their descendants — for years to come. But it was during this period that an important change was occurring behind the scenes: US Soccer officials began planning for a brighter future for American soccer.

Early Beginnings

Soccer’s Introduction to the USA

Soccer, or football as it is known in many parts of the world, was introduced to the United States in the mid-19th century. The first recorded soccer game in America took place in 1869 between Princeton University and Rutgers University.

However, it was not until a few decades later that the sport began to gain some popularity. The early years of American soccer were marked by a lack of formal organization and standardization.

Rules varied from one group to another and there was no national governing body. Nevertheless, British immigrants played a significant role in spreading the game across the country.

The First Soccer Clubs in America

In 1884, an American businessman named Thomas Cahill founded what is considered by many as the first official soccer club in America – The Oneida Football Club. Based in Boston, Massachusetts, this club played against other amateur teams and helped popularize soccer within its region.

Other clubs soon followed suit such as Bay State FC (1886) and Fall River Rovers (1888). These clubs were mainly made up of English immigrants who had brought their love of soccer with them from Europe.

As more clubs were established across America, informal leagues began to develop. The first intercollegiate soccer match took place between Harvard and Yale Universities on November 13th, 1875.

By the turn of the century, soccer had become a popular sport among college students and immigrant communities throughout America. While still relatively unknown on a national level compared to other sports like baseball or American football, it laid down roots that would grow over time into one of America’s favorite pastimes today: Major League Soccer (MLS).

The Rise of Professional Soccer

Soccer in the United States began as a sport played mainly by immigrants, but it was not until the early 20th century that professional leagues began to emerge. The formation of the American Soccer League (ASL) in 1921 was a major turning point for soccer in America, as it allowed for a more organized and structured approach to the game at a professional level. The ASL consisted of teams from cities all across the country, including Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.

Many of these teams were made up of immigrant players who had honed their skills on the streets and fields of their home countries before coming to America. With the formation of the ASL, soccer became a more legitimate profession in America.

The Formation of the American Soccer League

The creation of the ASL was spearheaded by several influential figures within American soccer at the time. One such figure was Sam Marks, who had previously helped to organize exhibition matches featuring international teams in America.

Another key player in creating the league was Thomas Cahill, who served as its first president. Initially consisting of just six teams, the ASL quickly grew and expanded its reach across America.

The league’s success can be attributed to its emphasis on professionalism and high-quality play. It also helped that many talented international players were beginning to make their way to America at this time.

The Emergence of International Stars in American Soccer

One such player was Bert Patenaude, who became famous for scoring three goals in a single game during the 1930 World Cup – still an impressive feat today. Patenaude played for several different teams throughout his career in both America and Europe before retiring from professional play in 1934. Another notable international star was Alex McNab, who played for several different ASL teams over his long career.

McNab was known for his impressive ball-handling skills and ability to score goals from seemingly impossible angles. The emergence of international stars in American soccer helped to increase the sport’s popularity and legitimacy in the eyes of many Americans.

It also helped to attract more talented players to America, further strengthening the ASL and other professional leagues that would follow. Overall, the rise of professional soccer in America during this time laid the foundation for the game’s continued growth and success in years to come.

The Struggles and Decline

Challenges faced by American soccer during World War II

During World War II, American soccer faced several challenges. The war had a huge impact on the sport, with many players enlisting in the military or working in defense plants. As a result, the quality of play declined significantly, with many teams struggling to field full squads.

Another challenge for American soccer during this time was the competition from other sports such as baseball and football, which were more popular among American audiences. Many people saw soccer as a foreign sport and were not interested in watching or playing it.

Despite these challenges, some teams continued to play throughout the war years. The Philadelphia Nationals won the 1943 U.S. Open Cup, but it was clear that professional soccer in America was struggling.

The decline of professional soccer in the 1960s and 1970s

The decline of professional soccer in America continued into the 1960s and 1970s. There were several reasons for this decline, including financial instability among teams and lack of interest from fans.

Many teams struggled to stay afloat financially, leading to mergers and foldings. In addition, there were few successful international tours by American teams during this period.

Another factor contributing to the decline was the lack of support from fans. Despite efforts by leagues such as NASL (North American Soccer League) to promote their teams through marketing campaigns featuring famous international players like Pele and Franz Beckenbauer, attendance figures remained low.

Overall, these struggles and declines represented a challenging time for professional soccer in America. However, there were still those who believed in the potential success of soccer in America and worked towards revitalizing it through new leagues like MLS (Major League Soccer).

Revival and Growth

Creation of Major League Soccer (MLS)

Major League Soccer (MLS) was founded in 1993, as a result of the U.S. hosting the World Cup in 1994. The establishment of the league was part of a larger plan to develop soccer in America and create a professional league that could compete with other established soccer leagues around the world. The first season of MLS took place in 1996, with ten teams playing in two conferences.

The league has continued to expand since then, with new franchises added every few years. In addition to expanding geographically, MLS has also expanded its reach by signing high-profile players from around the world.

Successes and challenges faced by MLS teams

Over the years, MLS has seen both successes and challenges as it continues to grow. One of the biggest successes is the creation of soccer-specific stadiums, which has helped improve game-day experiences for fans and players. Another notable success is that many American players are developing their skills within MLS before moving on to play for clubs overseas.

This is due to the increasing quality of coaching staff and facilities. Despite these successes, there have been some challenges faced by MLS teams.

One challenge is competition from other sports leagues such as basketball or football which make it difficult for soccer to become popular across all age groups. Additionally, another major challenge faced by MLS teams is creating a fan base that remains loyal even during times when their team may not be performing well on the field.

This is especially difficult given how much pressure there tends to be on young athletes who are expected to perform at high levels while still developing their skills. Overall though, despite some bumps along the way, Major League Soccer remains an important part of America’s sports landscape- offering exciting and entertaining games for fans throughout North America!

Women’s Soccer

Developing Women’s Soccer in the USA: A Long and Winding Road

In many ways, women’s soccer in the USA has faced similar struggles to the men’s game over the years. It was only after Title IX was implemented in 1972 that girls and women had equal access to sports programs at all levels of education, including soccer.

However, it wasn’t until 1985 that the first Women’s World Cup was held, and it took until 1991 for a national team to be formed in the USA. Since then, women’s soccer has come a long way.

The US women’s national team (USWNT) is now one of the most successful in history, with four World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals. But it wasn’t always easy.

The team faced criticism early on for not being feminine enough or attractive enough to attract sponsors and fans. In fact, before the first Women’s World Cup, FIFA officials suggested that female players wear shorter shorts to appear more feminine on the field.

The Successes of the USWNT: Fighting for Equality on and off the Field

Despite these early challenges, USWNT players have fought hard for equality both on and off the field. They were trailblazers in demanding higher pay and better working conditions from their federation – something which came to a head when they filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer in March of 2019. Their success as athletes has also helped raise awareness about issues like equal pay for female athletes across all sports.

Some members of Congress even introduced a bill known as “The Equal Pay Act,” which aimed specifically at closing the gender pay gap between male and female athletes. But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for USWNT players either.

Some have faced criticism over their protests during the national anthem, while others have been targeted by trolls on social media. Despite these challenges, the team continues to inspire young girls and women across the country to pursue their dreams in soccer and beyond.

The Challenges Faced by Women’s Soccer: Looking Ahead

Despite the strides made in recent years, there are still challenges facing women’s soccer in the USA. For example, players still earn significantly less than their male counterparts – despite generating more revenue for U.S. Soccer overall. While there are professional women’s soccer leagues in the USA (such as the National Women’s Soccer League), many players still struggle to make a living wage.

In addition, there is a lack of investment in youth development for girls’ soccer programs compared to boys’ programs – which means that many talented female players may never get the chance to reach their full potential. However, all is not lost.

The USWNT continues to be a force on the international stage and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. In addition, new initiatives like SheBelieves – which encourages young girls and women to believe in themselves both on and off the field – are helping change perceptions about what it means to be a female athlete.

As we look ahead to another decade of women’s soccer in America, it’s clear that there are still challenges ahead. But with strong role models like those on USWNT leading the way, anything is possible.

Future Outlook

The United States is Poised for Continued Soccer Growth

Soccer’s popularity in the United States has been on a steady rise since the creation of Major League Soccer (MLS) in 1996. With the addition of expansion teams and a boost in attendance numbers, it’s apparent that soccer has solidified a place among American sports. According to Forbes magazine, MLS attendance is now surpassing that of both the NBA and NHL.

Additionally, soccer is becoming more accessible to kids from all backgrounds thanks to community programs and school-sponsored leagues. This trend is expected to continue as more people recognize the benefits of participating in team sports.

MLS over the past 10 years

Over the past decade, Major League Soccer (MLS) has seen significant growth and progress in the United States. The league, which was founded in 1996, has steadily strived to shift the sports landscape, creating a space for soccer alongside more traditionally popular sports like football and basketball [1][2].

In terms of expansion, the MLS began with 10 teams, but by 2023 it has grown to a total of 29 teams [3][4]. The addition of St. Louis City SC in 2023 as an expansion team is a testament to the league’s continued growth.

Regarding financial performance, in 2023, the Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) became the first MLS team to be valued at a billion dollars, signifying the league’s economic impact and growth [3].

Additionally, attendance figures indicate a growing interest in the sport, with a record attendance of more than 10 million, breaking its previous high of 8.6 million set in 2019 [5]. Currently, MLS has the third-highest average attendance of any sports league in the U.S., after the NFL and MLB, and ranks seventh globally [8].

However, despite this success, the league acknowledges the need for more robust media rights packages to further boost its visibility and revenues [7]. Nonetheless, the progress and growth of the MLS in the last decade are notable and reflect its strengthening position in the U.S. sports landscape.

Increased Interest from Global Brands

American soccer’s ongoing success has garnered attention beyond our borders as well. Many international brands are investing heavily in US soccer, including club ownership and sponsorship deals.

In 2019 alone, several major European clubs launched youth academies stateside. These investments show confidence in America’s ability to produce top-tier players while also increasing exposure for the sport within the country.

The Future is Bright for Young Players

US youth programs have seen an increase in support and funding over recent years through initiatives such as the U.S Soccer Foundation’s “Safe Places to Play” campaign which aims to build more than 1000 play spaces across North America by 2026. This investment highlights just how seriously America takes its future role on the world stage – something that will only be improved by strong youth development programs. Furthermore, rising interest in collegiate soccer creates opportunities for young players looking for alternative routes toward professional careers both domestically and abroad.

Women’s Soccer Leading Role

The continued success of women’s soccer at both club and national levels shows just how integral it is becoming within American culture – particularly as young girls are drawn towards high-profile athletes such as Megan Rapinoe or Carli Lloyd. The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) has seen increasing interest in recent years, with new teams joining the league and MLS clubs investing in creating women’s teams.

2026 World Cup Host Nation

The United States will co-host the 2026 FIFA World Cup alongside Mexico and Canada. With soccer’s popularity on a steady incline, this event is expected to be one of the most-watched sporting events in American history. Hosting the competition also creates a significant opportunity for further investment into infrastructure and facilities – meaning that soccer will continue to grow from strength to strength long after the final whistle of 2026.

Final Thoughts:

As we’ve seen throughout this article, US soccer has come a long way from its early beginnings but there is still so much more potential for future growth and success. With increased investment, programs targeting youth development, women’s soccer taking a prominent role, and the upcoming 2026 World Cup, it’s clear that American soccer is on an exciting trajectory toward long-term success. 

As our love for soccer continues to grow across diverse communities nationwide, it’s only a matter of time before America emerges as a true powerhouse in global football culture.


The history of soccer in the USA has spanned over a century. From its early beginnings to its current state, American soccer has seen its ups and downs.

However, it is clear that the sport has come a long way, and there have been many significant moments throughout its history that have shaped it into what it is today. One such moment was when soccer was first introduced to America in the late 1800s.

At this time, soccer was played primarily by immigrants from Europe who brought the sport with them. The first soccer clubs were formed during this time, and the sport began to gain popularity.

Another significant moment was the formation of the American Soccer League in 1921. This marked the rise of professional soccer in America and brought about many international stars who played for American teams.

However, this success was short-lived as challenges faced during World War II led to a decline in professional soccer during the 1960s and 1970s. Despite these challenges, there have been many successes as well.

The creation of Major League Soccer (MLS) in 1993 marked a new era for American soccer. Since then, MLS teams have experienced both successes and challenges but have continued to grow in popularity across the country.

Women’s soccer has also seen significant growth over the years with the development of women’s national teams and leagues such as the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). 

Despite facing unique challenges such as gender inequality and pay disparities compared to their male counterparts, female players continue to inspire future generations of young girls who dream of playing professionally.

Looking ahead, there is much optimism for American soccer’s future growth and success. With more youth players participating than ever before and increasing interest from fans across all demographics, it seems that American soccer is poised for even greater achievements in years to come.

While American soccer may have had its fair share of challenges, it has also seen significant growth and success throughout its long and storied history. With each passing year, it becomes increasingly clear that soccer is here to stay in the USA, and we can all look forward to many more exciting moments in the years ahead. (1)