The sports landscape in the United States has been centred around baseball, basketball and football since the early 1900s. Until more recently, over the last 30 years or so, soccer has been on the rise in popularity among US sports fans. This rise has been capped off by the creation of the Major Soccer League (MLS) and the success of the US National Soccer Teams over the years, mainly with the US Women’s National Team which boasts 4 FIFA World Cups, winning the tournament on their first ever try, and 4 Olympic gold medals.
The popularity of soccer—both in participation and interest—is increasing in the United States. There’s no doubting that. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 7% of Americans cited soccer as their favorite sport to watch, while 9% preferred America’s pastime baseball. Not only is soccer growing as a whole in the United States, but the MLS has experienced a 27% rise in interest since 2012, according to Nielsen Sports Sponsorlink. Currently there are 24 clubs competing in the MLS with three more teams looking to break into the league in 2020; Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC, while Austin FC will start competing in 2021. The league, which debuted in 1996 with 10 clubs, anticipates increasing to 28 and 29 teams in the near future.
Another major contributor to soccer’s growth in the United States is the presence of foreign clubs, who are expanding their influence and brand through year-round academies, summer camps, international offices, digital content, preseason friendlies, participating in the International Champions Cup (ICC) and partnerships.
One of the biggest contributors to the development of soccer in the US through soccer camps are the Real Madrid Foundation Clinics, which hold camps in over 35 cities across the country, Avanza Sports organizing 19 of them! The clinic offers a unique and exciting opportunity to experience specialized soccer training from one of the world’s most successful soccer teams. Training at the official Real Madrid Foundation soccer camp allows players to train like a pro soccer player, learn the best sport values and European methodologies. The tactical soccer training program aims to improve the player skills with games and challenges that are intended to provide them with a deeper understanding of each single role and position.
The main objective of the Real Madrid Foundation is to promote, both in Spain as well as abroad, the values inherent in sport, and the latter’s role as an educational tool capable of contributing to the comprehensive development of the personality of those who practice it. In addition, as a means of social integration of those who find themselves suffering from any form of marginalization, as well as to promote and disseminate all the cultural aspects linked to sport. Thus the Real Madrid Foundation Camps are used to raise both awareness as well as a fund to help those that are in a less fortunate position. To date, there have been 5 Real Madrid Socio-Sporting School founded in the United States, which have been directly funded through the proceeds of the Foundation camps.
The players in these Socio-Sporting Schools live at risk of social exclusion, abandoning and failing their studies and come from hostile home situations, contexts of social violence or are living in poverty. They are youngsters who are keen to play sports, and in particular, football. The attendees include individuals of Latino, Afro-American and Asian origin. The school seeks to improve the participants’ quality of life and social integration by promoting the practice of sport; reinforcing formal education (monitoring and school reinforcement classes); promoting education on values (team work, a sense of belonging, camaraderie and fighting against discrimination), as well as personal and social skills (conflict resolution, cooperation, etc.) Avanza Sports also offers those in the United States who wish to attend a camp in their area the opportunity to earn a scholarship for the camp.
One of the many goals from these summer camps to develop youth soccer in the US is with the 2026 FIFA World Cup coming up, which will be hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada. With the help of these foreign clubs, as well as the further development of the MLS, the hope is to have today’s youth participating and representing the US National team in the competition on home soil.
*Image courtesy of San Diego Union Tribune.