The FIFA World Cup, which will be held in Germany from June 9th to July 9th, has soccer fans around the world excited. Sports fans in America, however, are more interested in homegrown sports such as basketball and American football, a very different game from soccer, which is known as football in most of the world.
The Washington, D.C. soccer team, "DC United," is not yet a household name like "Manchester United," their British counterpart. Likewise, American Major League Soccer is not yet on a par with the English Premiere League, the Italian "Serie A" or the Spanish "La Liga.”
American Major League Soccer is still a young league by football standards, but its popularity is on the rise. The number of spectators at U.S. soccer games is growing and can reach up to 25,000 per match.
Foreign talent helps to energize the sport. Youri Djorkaeff is a Frenchman who helped lead his country's national team to victory at the 1998 FIFA World Cup. He says the sport has a bright future. "It's growing, it's new and it's still at its infancy, so it's getting better, with a lot of players from Europe playing here."
There is also some excellent local talent. One rising star is DC United's Freddy Adu, who is only 17-years-old.
Freddy Adu joined DC United two seasons ago at the tender age of 14, and is considered a phenomenal player on the field, as well as an inspiration to others who might otherwise not take an interest in soccer.
Adu believes that starting young has actually helped his game. "I feel much more comfortable than I ever did my whole life. The first two seasons is a learning experience, and this season I'm ready to go out on the field and make a huge impact for the team, and that's what I'm going to try and do."
Veteran players like Ben Olsen, who joined DC United eight years ago, thinks the league is making progress.
"I think we're getting more quality players. Teams are having good 11 quality players,” Olsen said. “Before, maybe there's about seven or eight very good quality players and there rest is regular players. But, I think now you see good complete teams."
But do better players necessarily draw in larger crowds? For Americans, soccer is a predominantly European sport.
Franklin Foer is a soccer enthusiast who has written a book about the spread of soccer fandom around the world. He thinks Major League Soccer will eventually increase the popularity of the sport in the United States.
"The longer that our domestic league stays together, the more money that advertisers put into the game, into promoting the game, the more its popularity increases," Foer said. "I think it's a game that people are more comfortable with. It used to be something foreign. And, it's regarded as something pretty American."
If the U.S. World Cup team does well, soccer may develop even more of a following in the United States.