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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The (Continued) Growth Of Soccer In America

Soccer has rapidly grown in a popularity in America. In 2014, an ESPN poll showed that professional soccer ranked second to pro football in popularity among 12- to 17-year-olds. Major League Soccer (MLS), the top-level soccer league in the United States, was founded in 1996 off the success of the 1994 World Cup. Currently a twenty-team league, MLS teams' attendance are threatening baseball and hockey teams in their respective cities.

The successful platform of the big European soccer leagues stems from their rich history. The promotion and relegation system is how most of the world's domestic soccer leagues operate, but the American system is different. Teams only move to the MLS when there are more expansion teams added, but these are only to the old team linked by ownership and team name and barely resemble the prior roster and coaching staff. Prominent "pro/rel" activists such as Ted Westervelt have been leading the push for change to the American soccer league setup, but it seems unlikely the MLS owners would budge, due to a potential drop off in income. I believe the current system is hurting the popularity of Major League Soccer, as opposed to the more popular European leagues which capture over a million U.S. TV viewers each week. AFC Bournemouth, for example, was playing in the fourth-tier "League Two" in 2009, and worked their way up to the top level English Premier League starting this season. Now imagine if a team from Lansing, Michigan could do the same...

Lansing United (blue and white) takes to the pitch 
against Columbus Crew Collegiate Program.
Lansing United is now in their third season and they look set to be playing in the NPSL, three levels below MLS, for many years to come. Lansing United plays against other teams from the NPSL Great Lakes West Conference, and in 2014 won the league and played in the NPSL national semifinals. Most of the roster consist of college players, with a few older players mixed in. I think it is important to support a local team  - that is why I root for the Detroit sports teams as well. This is opposed the type of fan that roots for Manchester United, the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys, and Notre Dame football. It is easy to root for historically successful teams. As much as love my Arsenal (soccer team based in north London), I feel more of a connection to my local team. Lansing United had 556 fans at their season opener last Saturday, but had over 1,000 fans for their game against Detroit City FC last season. They are still a new team looking for more fans, so I'd suggest taking a look at the schedule, and thinking of going to a game.

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