In many places throughout Europe and Latin America, a soccer club is a built-in part of a community. London neighborhoods can be defined by the football club they support and the bond that creates between members of an area. In the US, this is bond is something we associate more with college sports or maybe baseball. With soccer, there’s not a very rich history in the United States; the game is just now seeing a resurgence in interest for the first time since the early Twentieth Century.
Major League Soccer is a great thing overall for soccer in the US, but it does have some drawbacks. MLS teams don’t generally seem to have a solid connection with their communities. For example, FC Dallas can’t seem to break into the spotlight of the DFW sports scene. Colorado Rapids has poor attendance in Denver. New England Revolution’s support currently is like a drop of water in a bucket compared to the lake of Patriots fans. Maybe it’s the poor stadium locations, the crowded markets, the lack of advertising, or the ownership. Many MLS teams can’t seem to make themselves a big deal in their market.
However, some MLS teams are doing a great job at engaging their city. My new hometown team, Atlanta United, is quickly becoming a big part of the Atlanta community, setting the high water mark for attendance in the 2017 MLS season. Portland Timbers, with their beloved Providence Park nestled in Portland’s Goose Hollow neighborhood, have become a massive stalwart of Portland culture. Orlando City and Seattle Sounders also have some real roots in the community, but many other clubs in MLS either have no roots and poor attendance or decent attendance but live as *just another sports team* instead of being a real part of the community.
I think what soccer needs in the US is more lower-division teams which have the ability to branch out and become deeply involved in their respective cities and towns. Many lower-division clubs in leagues like the NASL, USL, NPSL, and USL PDL have been able to find support. The footprint of soccer fandom in the US should only increase in the future with the introduction of two new third division leagues, the NISA in 2018 and USL Division III in 2019. If more teams can start to spring up in smaller cities that don’t have any major sports teams (or even just one), then those cities will almost certainly come out to support their new club.
This is a sensation that can be seen all over the current USL. Teams like Rio Grande Valley FC, Sacramento Republic, Louisville City, and Reno 1868 come in towns with one or fewer major sports teams, and they all have respectable support. Pro soccer needs to find its way to cities like these. I think in the future they will, but right now, we as soccer and sports fans need to take it upon ourselves to go support our local soccer teams. If your area doesn’t have a team, go call for local businessmen to found a team and plop it into a lower league. You could even get together local soccer fans and found a supporter-owned team. The great thing about soccer is that it’s so flexible. Every supporter can be a part of the team, and every team can be a part of the community. That’s how it should be, and that’s what we need more of here in the US.