Soccer in U.S. offers more than just national teams

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I don’t think I was the only person losing my mind while staring at my television last Saturday.

In fact, most American soccer fans were likely collectively weeping over the listless performances of the United States Men’s National Team in the CONCACAF Gold Cup (North America’s regional international soccer tournament).

After losing in the semifinals 2-1 to Jamaica, team USA doubled down on its shame, losing the third place game 1-1 (3-2 on penalty kicks) to Panama. Almost every game of the Gold Cup was played in the U.S., which made this a loss in the country’s backyard.

This can leave a sour taste on the American palate. However, Americans should embrace more than just the men’s and women’s national teams. We should collectively start paying more attention to United States club soccer.

The American league with the most exposure is MLS (Major League Soccer). The league, which started play in 1996, has certainly been met with derision by soccer snobs over the years, perhaps for good reason. In its fledging years, the MLS was unable to recruit star European players and the best players on the U.S. national team were drawn to the more glorious and lucrative leagues in Europe.

Things changed in 2007 when MLS allowed teams designated players (stars that do not count against the overall team salary cap). This allowed the L.A. Galaxy to sign superstar David Beckham, who greatly increased the profile of MLS.

Now, teams are allowed to have multiple designated players and many American stars such as Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore (both of the Toronto FC) have decided to come home and play in the domestic league, where national team players can cash in.

MLS soccer used to be a chore to watch, with boring, diagonal long balls the primary way to attack poor defenses. Now, the league is wildly entertaining (with a better quality of play to boot) and has three games on national TV per week.

Men’s professional soccer also has a few entertaining lower leagues in the U.S. Just below the MLS is the NASL (North American Soccer League). One step below the NASL is the USL Pro. While not as large as MLS, the NASL and USL Pro are still exciting leagues that are also growing, reflecting the growth of the sport in the United States.

West Virginia features two teams in the USP PDL, the largest under-23 league in the United States. Local enthusiasts can check out the West Virginia Chaos in Charleston and the Southern West Virginia Kings Warriors in Bluefield. The two teams play in the summer and feature promising college students from across the nation.

For Americans blown away by the United States Women’s National Team winning the Women’s World Cup this summer (you’re un-American if you weren’t), most of the team’s players compete in the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League). Fans can watch the games live on YouTube and see many of the world’s best women’s soccer players.

If you consider yourself an American soccer fan, you really should also embrace the domestic leagues that the country has to offer. Pick a club to follow or just appreciate the league as a whole.

American domestic soccer leagues are finally playing at a level that can be easily watched. Now, it’s time for American soccer fans to collectively embrace these leagues and help to grow the U.S. game even more.

Kyle Gibson can be contacted at [email protected]

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