Historically, when one thinks of soccer, the trail of thought doesn't immediately switch to the USA. But that’s all changing. The national team are increasingly a force on the world stage, the country has hosted the game’s biggest event, the World Cup and it has its own glitzy professional leagues for both men and women, which are capable of attracting international superstars such as David Beckham and Thierry Henry, to play and grow the game in the country.
Major League Soccer (MLS) began in 1996 with just 10 teams and will expand to 21 teams in 2015, with the arrival of Orlando City FC and New York City FC. Teams are located all over the USA (and a couple in Canada too) with some of the most famous (and original members) being LA Galaxy and DC United (Washington DC). These two teams have won the competition four times each.
Slowly but surely, the popularity of soccer in the USA has steadily grown in recent decades and, in fact, the MLS has the third highest average attendance of the major sports leagues, behind only the NFL and MLB. Tickets are affordable, stadia grand and the atmosphere buzzing as teams build support. The MLS regular season runs from March to October, with two conferences, before playoffs and finals in November and December. Each year, the MLS holds rivals week, including seven derbies.
When the MLS launched, it was largely played on American Football Fields, but that changed. Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio was the first-ever soccer-specific stadium in the USA and was built in 1999 but in 2014, there are 13 soccer-specific stadiums in the country, with two more under construction.
In general, the in-stadium experience at an MLS game is somewhere between a European soccer match and other American sports - very family friendly with plenty going on besides the soccer. Each team’s stadium has a unique atmosphere that changes year-on-year as the game and league’s popularity grow. There are stadia with intense, fan-driven atmosphere - Real Salt Lake in Utah boast eight supporters groups and Chicago Fire’s most boisterous fans gather in a portion of their stadium called Toyota Park, called “Section 8”.
Plenty of the game’s biggest names have helped to enhance the MLS’s fame. Some have come from overseas, such as England’s David Beckham, Ireland’s Robbie Keane and Frenchman Thierry Henry but there are homegrown stars too, such as Landon Donovan of LA Galaxy. Increasingly, young Americans don't look overseas to the traditional European leagues for the biggest opportunities but stay in the USA and in 2015, the league welcomes World Cup winners David Villa and Kaka, as well as Frank Lampard, the English midfielder who has won every trophy in the English game with Chelsea, for the final posting of their celebrated careers.
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