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Is soccer finally popular in the United States?

Soccer gambling used to be more popular in the U.S.A than soccer itself, because money. But according to Irish Times writer Ken Early, the version of football in which balls connect with feet more often than with hands is finally catching on in the country where baseball is the national pastime. Early posits that soccer has reached critical mass in America thanks to a thriving Major League Soccer (MLS), the internet, and video games. The first argument is debatable though. “The previous day I had stood at the side of a pitch on the campus of the State University of New York, Purchase College, watching a squad of players train,” Early writes. “It could have been a scene from the training of any small college soccer team, except that on that field were three World Cup winners: Andrea Pirlo, David Villa and, presiding over the session, Patrick Vieira.”

This is nothing new of course, and only perpetuates the notion that the MLS is soccer’s boneyard. Pirlo and Villa – who play for New York City FC – are merely following in the footsteps of other white dwarf stars like David Beckham and Lothar Matthaus. Why do aging idols leave the credibility of European leagues for a land where football is called soccer? Once again, because money. The better funded teams have the best gambling odds of winning trophies. And as early notes, the MLS is the world’s seventh-best-supported league with average crowds of over 21,000 – which signifies a pretty good revenue stream.

But it wasn’t a ‘build it and it will come’ scenario at first. Soccer had to endure levels of media derision only comparable to the vitriol they usually reserve for pro wrestling. The advent of the Internet allowed would-be fans to circumvent soccer-ignorant sports writers – which were the majority – and learn about the game from truly informed sources. In addition to the World Wide Web, the success of video games such EA’s FIFA franchise – which is painstakingly realistic – has allowed millions of people to become well acquainted with the rules, the locales, and the stars of the game.

The U.S. has even helped to clean up soccer’s act, when federal prosecutors disclosed cases of corruption by officials and associates connected with FIFA, the governing body of soccer – a little soccer gambling is okay, though. Perma-president Joseph Blatter stepped down, and as Early writes, “Fifa currently has a president who can travel to New York without having to worry too much about being detained for questioning” in Gianni Infantino. “That (Infantino) is in New York at all is testament to the increasingly central position the United States occupies in the world of football,” Early declared.