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Football in the States: from the 1994 World Cup to today

America kept its commitment to a sport with tradition that was not ingrained into their culture, but is now one of the most followed. 

Even though football in the USA has its origins in 1862, when Oneida FC was created in Boston as the first football team, it only became professional in 1993 given there was a World Cup the year after. Since then, the sport has grown to become the country’s fourth most popular sport, and the second amongst youngsters between 12 and 24. It is estimated that at least one member in 30% of all American households plays football.
Not only do surveys back up what football means today in America: president: president Barack Obama got behind Jürgen Klinsmann’s men during the World Cup and also speaks about the new relevance of the sport in America. Packed squares, streets taken over by multicultural communities under the same flag: football has been their best discovery in decades.
The creation of a professional football league was one of the promises they made to FIFA in 1988 during their presentation to host the 1994 World Cup. Before then amateur American football had attracted stars such as Pelé, who played for New York Cosmos between 1975 and 1977, and Franz Beckenbauer. In December of 1993 Major League Professional Soccer was chosen as the league to become professional, and it is now known today as Major League Soccer (MLS).

Football is the second amongst youngsters between 12 and 24 in the USA

In March 1994 the American league finalised its first television deal, in which they did not receive money for rights, but got a cut of the advertising revenue. 20 years on, their games are watched all over the world on 11 channels (eight American and three Canadian), which is a principal source of the league's income. The MLS was officially born in February of 1995 and a year later the ball was rolled in a historic season that would grip a nation. 

If the 1994 World Cup final between Brazil and Italy was the most viewed football match on TV until 1999, the first MLS season brought a record that still stands: the most spectators. 69,255 watched LA Galaxy-Metro Stars, a stat that has yet to be beaten; with three of the top five most watched game there coming in 2013. 


Football had to wait to catch on in the USA. During its first years it lost a lot of money, with half-empty stadiums and people not accepting a sport with tradition but few roots. Not even the 1994 World Cup, which produced the highest average attendances at World Cups (68,991) produced a change. It would not be until 2002 when the USA made the quarterfinals of the World Cup before being eliminated by Germany, when it really took on.
Until then football in the country was governed by its own rules, such as penalty shootouts resolving matches that ended in a draw. In 2003, the MLS accepted standards of FIFA, and from then until 2008, six more football-specific stadiums were built. The later arrival of stars such as David Beckham, who won the league with Real Madrid in 2007, finally gave football the global dimension known today. Such is the power of football now that the MLS itself has been forced to move from the initial 10 teams to the current 19, a number that will rise to 22 in 2017