Soccer Stateside: World Cup 2026, MLS, Superstar Players, Football USA Is Rising

Soccer Stateside: World Cup 2026, MLS, Superstar Players, Football USA Is Rising

By Tim Thomas.

During my time living in the USA, one thing was very clear, and that was the sporting hierarchy observed across the nation. Although other sports were to be watched, played, and enjoyed, the “big four” as I was instructed to refer to them, were sacrosanct.

In truth, the numbers backed this up too. Played, watched, adored, and loved by many millions, and in no particular order of preference, the MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL (baseball, basketball, American Football, and Ice Hockey) are the aforementioned table toppers. 

They are, by some way, the most popular sporting leagues, and the most played at every level, from grassroots kids’ games to college, to professional, right across North America and, specifically, the USA. Amid this admitted pantheon of popularity, a new contender has emerged in the form of soccer, or football as is across other countries. Although the earlier attempt at soccer, in the 1970s and 1980s, was received well, it was, and is the MLS, Major League Soccer that has brought this globally loved sport to the more mainstream attention of American audiences. From dedicated network channels for soccer to in-depth discussions about players on sports desk shows, from a newfound love of men’s and women’s national soccer teams to forums about the latest World Cup soccer odds, soccer has really taken root, and now taken off in this part of the world. 

Such is the image, popularity, and profile of soccer in the USA these days, the country is set to host the 2026 World Cup, the biggest global festival of the sport on the planet and, in the World Cup Final, the most watched sporting contest in the world.

This, as much as the popularity of the MLS, the coverage of the sport from around the other footballing nations, and the growing number of young players coming through the US soccer system, shows that this is a sport that is here to stay, one on the up in what is a sports-mad country already.

So how big a rise has soccer enjoyed Stateside, how much more can it grow, and what factors are making this exponential growth possible? Time to answer some of those questions, at least in part. 

Player Power Meets Marketing Magic As Soccer Strides Into The US Spotlight

When the North American Soccer League started, then eventually failed in the US, it was not through a lack of trying on the part of league organisers and franchise owners at the time. Although they were able to attract globally recognized players such as George Best, Pele, and Franz Beckanbauer, these players were often towards the end of their admittedly glittering careers, rather than being at the top of their game, so to speak. Today, franchise soccer in America is much more attractive for both sponsors and superstar players, and when player power meets marketing, it can be commercial gold. 

With the MLS, this previous lack of genuine attraction for the world’s best players is entirely different. Players such as David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi (arguably the best player in the world today), Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, David Villa, and the list goes on. Each of these joined, at different times, their respective MLS teams while still playing some of their best football, with many staying for a few years rather than a brief stint. For many players, joining an MLS soccer team is not just fiscally attractive (though we cannot deny that it is): it is competitively challenging as the league gets better and better. 

As mentioned, the ability to attract star players to the MLS is one thing, but the growth of this sport in the USA has also been achieved, at least in part, by superb marketing strategies. Maximizing the visibility of soccer, making it a family-friendly sport, investing in blanket network coverage to rival the big four – all these marketing efforts are paying off enormously. Franchises are expanding, soccer is growing in terms of attendance and viewing figures, more supporters are watching the MLS around the world, and with the hosting of the biggest World Cup of Soccer to date, it is clear that the attempt to make soccer huge in the USA has worked, and is continuing to move forward. 

National Team Heros Making USA Men’s and Women’s Soccer Stronger

When you have reached the status of having a ticker tape parade in Manhattan, you know that you have succeeded on a level that is reserved for the very best of the best, in whatever discipline, or for whatever reason. For the USA Women’s Soccer team, this was their reward for winning the 2015 World Cup of Soccer, an honour bestowed upon many great sporting teams in the history of the USA, but never a soccer team. The impact that made remains massive for women’s US soccer, much as the MLS has for the men’s game. 

The power of such victories cannot be overstated, especially for a sport that is growing in such a crowded sporting landscape. Having heroes and heroines in your favourite sport invariably makes that sport more accepted, popular and, frankly, more commercially successful. It is thanks to this kind of success, and the massive popularity of soccer in the USA today, that more European clubs and owners are now investing in MLS franchises. Add this to the influx of global superstars that would once only have played in European leagues and you will see how these national sporting treasures are transforming the game.

In reality, soccer still has a long way to go in the USA before it makes it to the top four status, but it is well on its way to becoming popular with many millions. Far from this just being a sport for expats from soccer-loving countries who live in the USA, soccer is now loved by people all across the nation. As the 2026 World Cup approaches, I predict that it is an event that will take an already popular and growing sport to the very highest level, and seal its place as one of the most loved sports in the USA.