There are very few constants in the world of soccer. It is a sport that promotes creativity both on and off of the pitch, where a person is very unlikely to see the same exact match twice. The game is always evolving and here in the United States it is changing by the day. But there is one constant in this sport here in the US and it is a positive one: more cities want to become US Soccer cities.
Although there have always been supporters throughout the US, it felt like more of a cult following than a movement. People would go to bars to support their European team, care about the U.S. Men’s or Women’s National Team every World Cup, and attend the occasional MLS match. Now supporting your local club team is imperative and even January friendlies for the USMNT are ‘can’t miss’ matches.
The rise in interest in domestic soccer seems to be tied to two things. First, greater resources being allocated to lower division clubs. Going back 10-15 years ago, soccer seemed to be limited to big metropolitan cities with large immigrant populations like New York, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles. Now cities like Indianapolis (who granted have a strong history at the collegiate level,) Orlando City, and Nashville are becoming soccer hubs.
Second, the recognition of the history of the game across the US has improved. This started with the Cascadia teams but has reached cities like Tampa Bay with the Rowdies and Ft. Lauderdale with the Strikers. It would have been easy for these teams to take the name that previously existed and forget the past. Cities and owners are no longer afraid to look at the past. Instead, they embrace it and in turn embrace the pre-existing supporters of these franchises.
So where is the next great US soccer city destined to pop up at? What is the next US city that could build off of a club and interest in the region? Here are four to keep an eye on:
This seems to be the cool city pick that most soccer pundits respond with when asked where they would like to see a Major League Soccer team. It is a city that has used the success of the South by Southwest music and culture festival over the past 15 years to turn itself into a hip and trendy city.
But beyond some cool bands and interesting people, it is also a soccer city. The city’s United Soccer League team, the Aztex, have proven themselves to be a hit among the local population. The team regularly packs House Park Stadium (which can seat up to 6,500 people) and has put out a product that is a consistent winner. The club won the USL PDL title in 2013 and made the Conference Finals their other two years of existence before being ‘promoted’ to USL this season.
With the city having hosted their first-ever preseason tournament this year, the ATX Pro Challenge, it is clear that Austin is looking to become that next big soccer city.
There is a reason why the Gold Cup has stopped in Charm City during the last two tournaments: Baltimore and the state of Maryland are soccer crazy. The city has supported the Baltimore Blast through multiple indoor leagues and is still successful. The University of Maryland men’s soccer team has won 3 College Cups and made 33 appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Plus they have the Baltimore Bohemians, whose team is named after National Bohemian beer.
Due to its proximity to Washington D.C. Baltimore might not be getting a MLS team anytime soon. But with the NASL having trouble getting a team off of the ground in Northern Virginia, perhaps the land of Old Bay and the Wire might be making a trip to the Soccer Bowl soon?
One of the cities that hosted the 1994 World Cup, Detroit and the entire state of Michigan have become a rising star in US soccer circles. While many will point the success of last year’s Manchester United-Real Madrid match at the University of Michigan (which had an attendance of close to 110,000,) the success of Detroit City F.C. is perhaps a better barometer. It is easy for anyone to come out to a Manchester United- Real Madrid match because of the players on the pitch. But Detroit City F.C. routinely get close to 3,000 people every match in the National Professional Soccer League, one of the lower divisions of US Soccer.
With Minnesota United FC making the move up to MLS, the NASL will have a hole in the northern part of the US. Detroit has been mentioned as a potential site for a USL Pro club team which would also be a big step for soccer in the region.
The NASL have already looked into the city by the Bay as a potential NASL expansion site and with the success of San Francisco City F.C. who would blame them? It is a city that has shown that it can support a US Men’s National Team match and has a prominent history in US Soccer (three teams from San Francisco have won the US Open Cup:the Greek-American Athletic Club in 1985, CD Mexico in 1993, and Greek American A.C. in 1994). It is also home to the San Francisco Bay Blxckhawks whose near victory over Club America in the 1992 CONCACAF Champions Cup whose story was recently told in an excellent piece on MLS Soccer.
San Francisco is certainly on the rise in US Soccer. It is just a question of high San Francisco City F.C. might go.