In the United States, soccer is here to finally stay. The official designation of the World Cup for North America in 2026 is the definitive accolade to soccer, which has grown exponentially since 1994.
The United States, Mexico and Canada will jointly host the 2026 World Cup. At a time of supposed tension between these nations over the renegotiation of the NAFTA, the designation only confirms the good relationship that exists in North America.
The coexistence between the United States and Mexico can only go further, the power of Latinos in the United States can only go further and soccer in North America can only go further. At least, that’s what FIFA’s bet says.
The tournament will return to the United States (where most games will be played) 32 years after the 1994 World Cup, the year in which the US debuted as host at the World Cups and organized a very good tournament where Brazil, in the hands of Romario and Bebeto, raised his fourth cup. Today, they are five-time champions.
There was not even a professional league in 94′. But that competition was not just an anecdote, it was designed to ignite the spark of soccer in the largest market in the world. The professional league Major League Soccer (MLS) debuted two years later in the 96′.
The United States had something to celebrate for the first time when their women’s team won the 1999 World Cup and did not begin to learn that they had a soccer league until 2002, when suddenly, the men’s national team qualified for the Quarterfinals defeating neither more nor less than Mexico.
Later in that tournament, in the feet of Landon Donovan, the greatest footballer in its history, the United States fell in a very close way against the powerful Germans.
According to data from 2016, the United States is today the second country where soccer is played the most over the world, only behind China. And it has more than four million federated players, only behind Germany.
According to a report by The Economist, American television is the one that offers more hours of live soccer in the world.
In the summer of 2018, although the national team did not compete in Russia, Fox broadcasted 38 live matches and a total of 350 hours of World Cup programming. It was “the largest production of Fox Sports in its 24-year history,” announced the executive producer of the chain, David Neal.
What has really changed in soccer in the US is the passage of time. What in 1996 was a newly invented league, today begins to have a culture.
Today there is a generation of 20 or 30 years old that has grown up going to the stadium with their parents. They are no longer fans of the LA Galaxy or the Seattle Sounders because it was the only way to see soccer on Sundays; now, they’re truly fans of those teams that represent the colors of their childhood.
That base of fans is what is injecting an optimism in the MLS league that, despite the tremendous setback of staying out of the World Cup in Russia, indicates that it can only grow.
The momentum is especially significant in the cities with the largest presence of Latinos, immigrants and children of immigrants, mostly Mexicans, who bring a culture of soccer from their countries and pass it on to their children.
It is no coincidence that the two Los Angeles teams have two Mexican stars in the lead, Giovani Dos Santos in the LA Galaxy and Carlos Vela in the Los Angeles Football Club.
Little by little, MLS is gaining strength around the world. There is no lack of stars as historical players such as David Villa, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney or Bastian Schweinsteiger have decided to play here.
In addition, worldwide, the MLS is in sixth place among the most watched TV championships, only behind the leagues from Germany, England, Spain, Mexico and China.
The boom is here: soccer is the second sport among young people in the United States. At a sporting level, everything that Americans touch, they turn gold. Sooner or later, thanks to its infrastructure and its powerful market, the United States will begin to enter the elite and will be a place from which they will not move.
2026 will be the first big test. With Christian Pulisic and other young talents, the United States will seek to surpass its best mark in World Cups (Quarterfinals in 2002) and now demonstrate in soccer that they are undoubtedly the king of sports.