Yes, Americans Care About Soccer Now

My latest for The Hill, "America Comes to Soccer," has posted.


My latest for The Hill, “America Comes to Soccer,” has posted. They solicited the piece based on some previous postings here at OTB, the discussion of which in the comments section greatly influenced this iteration.

As the quadrennial World Cup kicked off, syndicated columnist Ann Coulter did what she does best, drawing attention to herself with world-class trolling, declaring, “Any growing interest in soccer can only be a sign of the nation’s moral decay.” If so, we’re going to hell.


I’ve been noticing the past couple of years that the people I follow on Twitter — mostly highly educated, national security types — were shockingly interested in the games of the major European soccer associations, notably the EPL. While I’d chalked that up as an elite coastal thing, I’m assured by a former colleague that his sons and their friends — who grew up playing soccer in Montgomery, Ala., of all places — are wildly enthusiastic about televised soccer.

Now, again, I don’t think the NFL is even slightly worried that fútbol will overtake football in popularity. But, outside of a few key markets, baseball, basketball and hockey are niche sports whose following rises and falls wildly depending on the success of the local team.

Further, as a regular commenter on my blog pointed out to me, MLS doesn’t have to be the venue by which soccer establishes itself as a major sport here. The globalization of media makes it possible for Americans to root for the very best soccer players in the world, even if they don’t happen to be Americans.

The NBA and NHL have rabid followings outside North America; it’s not inconceivable that we’re coming to the point when the EPL and the Spanish league, La Liga, will have huge American followings as well.

The piece was written the day after Argentina’s shootout victory over Holland and therefore doesn’t take into account Germany’s winning their fourth Cup in extra time over Argentina. The ratings will likely be quite impressive by any other than NFL standards.

As some observers on Twitter noted, the ESPN/ABC team did quite a good job covering this tournament and the last, in stark contrast to the buffoonish coverage in 2006. Instead of having announcers familiar to the audience, they instead went with announcers familiar with soccer. And rather than treating the game as some weird, foreign curiosity.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mikey says:

    Pretty much everyone is interested in soccer…except people who put stock in what Ann Coulter says.

    She can be legitimately funny sometimes (and a reminder to those of us on the other side of the political aisle not to take ourselves too seriously), but she’s either totally ignorant of soccer or pretends she is to pander to her audience.

    ESPN’s coverage was really good this time around, and Team USA’s decent performance under German legend Juergen Klinsmann certainly helped raise interest here.

    Today I was rooting hard for Germany–having a German-born wife will do that–and the game was alternately frustrating and exciting. Goetze’s game-winner was utter beauty. I can’t wait for 2018.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    I have been a soccer fan since l lived in Munich in the late 60s and early 70s. I watched the World Cup finals today and thought it was a great game. I will also watch the Portland-Seattle MSL game on ESPN2 tonight.
    Both of my sons played soccer in the 80s. I rarely missed one of their games.

  3. steve says:

    It is fun to watch in the World CUp when the level of play is so high. I don’t find league play as interesting. I have pretty much come to feel that way about pro basketball and college football. I still watch an occasional regular season baseball game.


  4. Just Me says:

    I’ve always enjoyed soccer although in our house hockey rules.

    I don’t care at all about NFL or MLB does that make me a bad American or bad conservative (at least according to Coulter)?

  5. ernieyeball says:

    @Mikey:..She can be legitimately funny sometimes.

    This one really cracks me up…

    “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity.”

    ”These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by griefparrazies. I have never seen people enjoying their husband’s deaths so much.”
    —Ann Coulter, on 9/11 widows who have been critical of the Bush administration

    I’m in stitches!!!

    ”We just want Jews to be perfected, as they say.”
    —Ann Coulter, arguing that it would be better if we were all Christian

    I’m laughing so hard the snot is running out of my nose.

  6. MarkedMan says:

    It’s all about the commercials for me. I used to be a major NFL fan but moved overseas for a couple of years with no tv. When I came back I realized the games had become unwatchable, and I switched to Soccer (and yes it is Soccer in lots of countries, not just the US) So a couple of days ago i realized that my United flight wouldn’t land until well into the first half. No worries, I thought, every other United flight I had taken for the past two weeks were bragging about showing the game live. Got on the plane and – it was an old one! No Direct TV! Fortunately they had internet so I could at least follow the FIFA updates. Luggage and car in record time, out the airport and onto Pacific highway. Jumped into the first bar I saw that looked like it would have it – a packed brew pub near the San Diego airport. And got to watch the second half and overtime of one off the best matches of the Cup. Soccer is the only sport I know where defensive plays are as exciting as offensive ones.

  7. Mr. Coffee says:

    Well the only thing I was looking forward to was the Soccer Riots that seem to follow the game no matter where it goes. 
As far as I can tell they were pretty lame too compared to recent futbol hooliganism.

    Over 70 people were killed during the initial rioting, making it one of the deadliest football riots in history.

    Then there were the riots after the death sentence trials of the aforementioned hooligans.

    Relatives and angry young men rampaged through the Egyptian city of Port Said on Saturday in assaults that killed at least 27 people following death sentences for local fans involved in the country’s worst bout of soccer violence.

    Some action on opening day but unless the news out of Brasil is being somehow pinched it wasn’t much to write home about as riots go.
    Looks like things were so feeble that someone had to rerun old riot U Tubes and the press fell for it.

    Some of the photos were taken in 2013 or just a few months ago in Brazil. A few others show the 2011 riots in London, which were not related to soccer.

    All that aside any tournament of any sport that allows both teams to advance after a 0-0 tie is just unAmerican.
    They both lost didn’t they? Send them both packing.

  8. Ron Beasley says:

    @MarkedMan: What you say about commercials is true, Soccer just isn’t suited to US television. The NFL, MLB and the NBA have commercial breaks built in but soccer never stops. I was just watching an MLS game on ESPN2 and they have small pop up boxes in the corner of the screen with ads that are very easy to ignore.

  9. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan and @Ron Beasley: But clearly the Disney corporation, through its ESPN and ABC properties, figured out how to make it work for this year’s tournament.

    @Mr. Coffee: First, stop creating sock puppets. You’re allowed to use a pseudonym here but don’t post under multiple names–certainly not in the same thread. Second, even with a much more affluent, democratic culture, we’ve certainly had rioting and looting in conjunction with sporting events. Third, it’s rare but possible for NFL games to end in a tie. NHL games routinely tied until implementing a shootout system a few years back. (Really, hockey is just soccer played on ice.) And even in soccer, ties are only allowed in non-elimination games. Given the fatigue factor and the difficulty of scoring, they can only play so long. And shootouts, while exciting, have their own issues.

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    It is “the beautiful game.”@Mikey: I was rooting for Argentina (Barcelona fan so Messi, but also the team from the Americas) but Germany was definitely the better team yesterday, and Gotze’s goal was a thing of pure beauty.

  11. Lounsbury says:

    @Mr. Coffee: Yes, just like every American city is full of gun fights and the like, in a moronic armed to the teeth population, as any good EuroLeftist will assure you. Your impression is of similar quality in information and perception.

  12. Tyrell says:

    @Mikey: The soccer games did not get much attention in our area. There was the usual excitement when the US played, but once they lost out, it was like the day after Christmas: people packed up soccer and went back to baseball . The local restaurant tv was showing racing and baseball. Here, NASCAR is still king.
    I have pointed out some problems in tv viewing of soccer: huge field, typical score is 2-1, rules and calls that are not explained, and confusing time keeping.
    Recreational soccer here is popular, with lots of participation. But this fades at the high school level, where football and baseball are big while the soccer teams have trouble fielding a team and there are less people in the stands then players on the field.

  13. SKI says:


    It is fun to watch in the World CUp when the level of play is so high. I don’t find league play as interesting.

    Actually, the level of play among the top teams in the big leagues is much higher than the World Cup. And when you get to the knock-out stages of the Champions League, the European championship among the top teams of each league, it is much higher than that.

    This was a good world cup in terms of percentage of games that were interesting but not a single one of these teams, including the Germans, would beat the top European teams that have better talent across the board and play together as a team for most of the year.

  14. superdestroyer says:

    Some issues with soccer:

    1. No exposure in high school and college. Americans become football ans basketball fans because they are exposed to football and basketball in many high schools and at the largest universities in the U.S.

    2. No draft. Other than a few named players at the perennial winners of EPL, La Lega Serie A, Bundesliga, most people do not know many players. What can the sports media talk about. Look at how Britain focuses on the WAGS because there is nothing else to talk about. Also, the loaning of players will sound ridiculous to most Americans.

    3. The develop of talent in soccer is most closely related to the develop of talent in tennis (start when the athletes are very young and put them in intensive academies). How has that worked out for Tennis in the U.S. or the rest of the world. Such a system will ensure that the U.S. does not create many Tier I soccer stars. How many Americans are going to be willing to send their 11 y/o son off to attend a the Ajax academy in the Netherlands.

    4. The relegation and promotion system is very unAmerican and does not fit with the U.S. system of public/private venue development. This can be seen as a good thing but relegation will not occur in the foreseeable future in the U.S.

    5. The biggest stadium in the EPL is smaller that every football stadium in the Big 10 except for Northwestern’s stadium. Not exactly a reflection of the way sports are done in the U.S.

    Most Americans are not really fans of EPL but are bandwagon fans of the usual winners such as Man U or Arsenal. I will believe Americans are really into EPL when I see someone wearing an Aston Villa jersey.

  15. Tyrell says:

    @Ron Beasley: I really enjoy watching soccer games in person here at the local fields. I just can’t stick with the tv games.

  16. DrDaveT says:


    Here, NASCAR is still king.

    “Cognitive dissonance” is being told that “soccer is boring” by a NASCAR fan.

  17. Mr. Coffee says:

    @James Joyner: First, stop creating sock puppets. You’re allowed to use a pseudonym here but don’t post under multiple names–certainly not in the same thread.

    10-4 Good Buddy. I skimmed the TOS and did not see anything about it so I thought I’d give it a go.
    Sure sorry I ticked off the futbol fans. I guess being a Cub fan I thought all sports followers could take the vituperation I suffer constantly.
    Well there goes Dennis Weaver again in that red Valiant, he must be a Cardinal fan. It’s time to take care of him. I’ve been chasing him all over the desert.
    Oh! No! Wait! He drove right off that cliff!!! Breaker! Breaker! AHHHHHHHHH!
    (Crash Thud Flames Everywhere)

  18. ernieyeball says:

    RIP Mr. Coffee. We hardly knew ye.

  19. Ron Beasley says:

    Is soccer popular in the US? There were 64,000 fans in the stadium in Seattle last night to watch the Seattle Sounders/Portland Timbers match. Portland’s stadium is nothing like Seattle’s, only holds a little over 20,000 but it sells out every match and people line up for hours and sometimes even days to get tickets.

  20. Andre Kenji says:


    Such a system will ensure that the U.S. does not create many Tier I soccer stars.

    I disagree. If the US had academies in the Bronx and in South Side of Chicago then it would be unbeatable on soccer.

  21. superdestroyer says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    Considering that soccer had to be started at an early age, that it does not benefit those who physicial mature early, and it requires cardio-vascular endurance, the South Side of Chicago or the Bronx is the last place I would look. Look at how few NFL players come from those areas. I would be looking in places like Florida and Texas. However, a football player does not really need to start until they are in high school.

  22. bill says:

    after yesterdays borefest i’m just glad i don’t have to watch it for another 4 years.

  23. ernieyeball says:

    @bill:..i’m just glad i don’t have to watch it for another 4 years.

    Why do you have to watch in another 4 years? Will someone have a gun to your head?

  24. They Saved Nixon's Brain says:

    You won’t have Nixon’s Brain to kick around any more!

  25. ernieyeball says:

    @They Saved Nixon’s Brain:..You won’t have Nixon’s Brain to kick around any more!

    Isn’t that how soccer started?

  26. Deserttrek says:

    don’t watch it or like it or give a rodents rear end … don’t watch the nfl either …i have a life

  27. Tyrell says:

    @superdestroyer: Some of the colleges and universities have good programs. I have attended some games at a nearby college. Admission was free or like a $1, and you could sit in the stands, bring your own chair, or just stand at the sidelines. Get this: you were allowed to bring in your own drinks, snacks, cooler, etc. I think the games are better to watch in person than on tv.
    A pro league would have to catch on and stay in a core of cities, get a network tv contract. Players would have to build a name recognition and following.
    College football is built a lot on rivalries.
    The NHL’s big attraction is really the playoffs.
    The NFL is now going to Thursday night games. They need to be careful about the over exposure and saturation.
    I hear this same conversation every so often, usually during and after the World Cup. Interest in soccer has gone through cycles. In the ’80’s there was a lot of interest. Maybe because of some big name players. I could not tell you the name of one soccer player today.

  28. just me says:

    James hockey only uses the shootout format during the regular season.

    During the Cup playoffs there are no ties and team’s play until there is a winner.

    Most hockey fans hate the shootout and would prefer a tie.

  29. wr says:

    @superdestroyer: “No exposure in high school and college”

    Maybe not in Hog Wallow, but in the civilized parts of the country there’s plenty of exposure. My niece played soccer all through high school and actually turned down hockey scholarships to an Ivy League school and a couple of others because she wanted to spend her university years studying, not playing sports…

  30. wr says:

    @superdestroyer: “The develop of talent in soccer is most closely related to the develop of talent in tennis (start when the athletes are very young and put them in intensive academies). How has that worked out for Tennis in the U.S. or the rest of the world. ”

    What are you talking about? America has the number one women’s tennis player in the world, and now has at least half a dozen young women who are in or heading for the top twenty — and they went to tennis academies, mostly. On the men’s side it’s not so good yet, but that’s hardly an indictment of the training regime.

  31. ernieyeball says:

    @James Joyner: (Really, hockey is just soccer played on ice.)

    Not quite.

  32. Ron Beasley says:

    @ernieyeball: I agree with James, just a little more violence although ther was some blood in the WC finals..

  33. superdestroyer says:


    AFAIK, the Ivy League does not offer “athletic scholarships.” And by exposure, I mean as a fan, not as a player.

  34. superdestroyer says:


    Compared to the Williams sisters, the Eastern Europeans have produced a massive number of ranked players. Of course, most of those Eastern European players has been living in Florida at a tennis academy since they were six years old.

  35. wr says:

    @superdestroyer: Technically, the Ivies do not offer “athletic scholarships.” However:

    “The Ivy League does not award athletic scholarships, but led by endowment-rich members like Harvard, Yale and Princeton, the conference has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in additional need-based aid — with most of the universities all but eliminating student loans and essentially doubling the size of grants meant for middle-income families.

    The financial-aid enhancements have had a profound effect on the quality of athletic recruits. Rosters are now fortified with top athletes who would have turned down the Ivy League in the past because they would have been asked to pay $20,000 to $30,000 per year more than at other colleges.”

    That’s from the NY Times, by the way.