Last week, a couple minor announcements were made in the sphere of American soccer. The 2017 Gold cup's final is to be hosted in Santa Clara's Levi's Stadium, while 12 cities were official candidates to become one of the 4 new franchises in the MLS.
These two announcements may appear minor ones but are proof that Soccer is (finally) becoming a real deal in the USA.
The upcoming 2017 Gold Cup will be the 14th time (in its current format) that the best nations of North America compete against one each other to determine the continent's best nation. A total of 14 venues will host games through 9 different states (4 venues are in Texas and 3 are in California), proving a widespread interest for the game.
In the early days of the Gold Cup, 16 years ago, only 2 or 3 cities used to hold games in a single edition. To ensure stadium filling, USA had to co-host 2 of the first 7 Gold Cups with Mexico, and before Foxborough got to see games in 2003, only three states (California, Texas, Florida), all with strong latinos population.
This the time when the MLS was at its lowest point, with the dissolution of both its Florida Franchises, the Miami Fusion and the Tampa Bay Mutiny leaving only 10 professional soccer clubs in the USA.
But in the past 15 years, soccer got diversified in the USA. 13 franchises have been created, 12 of them surviving, and only two (Houston Dynamo and Orlando City SC) were created in areas with a strong latino population, with convincing attendance results, moving the average attendance up from 13,700 in 2000 to 21,700 in 2016. Total gates also moved up, from 2.2 millions in 2002 to 7.4 millions in 2016.
This popularization of soccer outside its initial comfort zone was boosted by the excellent results of the US National team, which since 2002 won half the Gold Cups, only missing the final in 2003 (third) and 2015 (fourth); reaching the final of the Confederations Cup in 2009, or reaching the semi-finals (as a special host) during the 2016 Copa America. The women in the same period got 1 gold, 1 silver and 2 bronze in the World cup, and 3 time gold in the Olympics, making sure soccer's audience could also reach female viewers.
Because after all, competing against others is what makes soccer interesting for Americans. Unlike Football (no other nation plays it) or Basketball (USA won 15 of the 18 Olympics tournament they played, for 2 silver and 1 bronze), Soccer gives American a unique chance to root for their nation in a sports event.
Next step is for a US-based MLS team to reach the final of the North American Champions League, a performance only Salt Lake City (in 2011) realized in the 21st century.