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We Can Win In Soccer: A Short History Of European Football in the U.S

Salwa Nadeem
Aug 03, 2021
09:10 P.M.
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Will soccer replace baseball in America? Or will it surpass American football in the coming years? We think none of that is going to happen anytime soon. Soccer won't replace the other well-known sports in America, but it might gain more popularity as Americans continue to play the sport internationally.

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Soccer is one of the most played sports globally, and Americans have also welcomed the sport with great enthusiasm. The number of high school students participating in soccer has also increased significantly in the United States. It was at an all-time high for 2018-19, showing how the youth is interested in playing the sport. Soccer was introduced as a sport in colleges back in 1876, right after the Civil War, and since then, people haven't stopped playing it. Let's look at a brief history of how American soccer has evolved over the years.

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American Soccer in the 1800s

When the Americans started playing football in the early 1800s, there were no fixed rules applied to the game at that time. People altered the regulations as they liked and were pretty casual about it. It wasn't until 1885 that U.S. soccer went international. A match between the U.S. and Canada took place during 1885-1886, and that was a huge milestone achieved in the world of American soccer.

A year before the international match, the American Football Association came together in Newark, N.J. They defined a uniform set of rules for playing American Soccer, which helped develop the sport. It elevated soccer's status from being just an organized sport played in colleges.

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U.S. soccer team in 1916 | Source: Wikimedia Commons

U.S. soccer team in 1916 | Source: Wikimedia Commons

Gaining Popularity in the 1900s

It was in the 1900s that soccer became very popular in America. After the formation of The Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) in 1904, more and more people started taking an interest in playing soccer. In the same year, soccer was played as a sport in the Olympics, where teams belonging to different clubs played under the same banner.

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The U.S. Football Association (USFA) became a full member of FIFA in 1914, and America was one of the thirteen countries that participated in the first FIFA world cup held in 1930. America's Bert Patenaude scored the first hat-trick of FIFA in the World Cup and bagged the third position as a tournament's leading scorer. This was a significant milestone achieved by America, and it encouraged the Americans to play soccer even more.

U.S. men's national soccer team at 1930 FIFA World Cup | Source: Wikimedia Commons

U.S. men's national soccer team at 1930 FIFA World Cup | Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Unfortunately, American soccer started to go downhill from this point. There were no significant soccer events going on in the country until the late 1960s, except the World Cup victory of 1950 where Joe Gaetjens scored a goal against England at 1-0, marking one of the most upsetting events in the history of soccer.

In 1961, the Confederation of North, Central America, and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) gained FIFA's recognition. Six years later, in 1967, the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) came into being but collapsed after playing one season. Then, the North American Soccer League (NASL) was formed and lasted till 1984. It played a massive role in making soccer one of the best sports in the United States.

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Pelé at Malmö city stadium in 1960 | Source: Wikimedia Commons

Pelé at Malmö city stadium in 1960 | Source: Wikimedia Commons

Then came Pelé's retirement in 1974. As part of the Brazillian team, he won the World Cup thrice; in 1958, 1962, and 1970. His spectacular performances made him famous within no time, and he said goodbye to his career with a total of 12 goals in 14 games. However, after announcing his retirement in 1974, he signed a three-year contract the next year and played for the New York Cosmos.

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Pelé was the center of attention wherever he went. His fans admired him so much that the stadiums would fill up quickly when he was performing there. His team had to arrange more security for him since the crowd had once injured him. After his retirement, people started to lose interest in American soccer.

Pele on a 1969 Brazil postage stamp | Source: Wikimedia Commons

Pele on a 1969 Brazil postage stamp | Source: Wikimedia Commons

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The sport became popular once again when the U.S. was selected to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup. People's response to the event showed when the attendance statistics surfaced that year. A total of 3.57 million people attended the events, which is by far the highest number of attendees in FIFA to date.

The United States was the host for the 1999 women's World Cup, and they even won the tournament that year. It was a massive achievement for the Americans to host and win the game at the same time. This is how far American soccer had come since the 1800s.

21st Century American Soccer

In the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the men's American soccer team reached the quarterfinals, and that was one of the best matches it had played since 1930. The Americans were now very interested in playing and knowing more about soccer.

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Landon Donovan playing a match in 2010 | Source: Wikimedia Commons

Landon Donovan playing a match in 2010 | Source: Wikimedia Commons

Later in 2010, the U.S. team again gave a brilliant performance in the FIFA world cup held in South Africa. Landon Donovan was the match's star as he scored a match-winning goal almost near the end of the game. He made the U.S. team win against Algeria.

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Americans have started liking soccer almost as much as they love baseball. In a 2018 poll, 7% said that they liked watching soccer, while 9% said that baseball was their favorite sport to watch.

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As of now, the United States Men's National Team won the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup after defeating Mexico at a dramatic score of 1-0. This is the USA's seventh Gold Cup win since 1991. It won the Concacaf Gold Cup in 1991, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2013, 2017, and 2021.

American soccer will surely gain more popularity in the coming years as new players are going to step into the field and put their skills to the test. If you liked this article, you would be interested in reading about the soccer player who died at the age of 21.

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