When I think about the nature of soccer in the United States I, perhaps bizarrely, am reminded of Werner Sombart's famous question, "Why is there no socialism in America?" That was one of my advisor's favorite questions to slip into a comprehensive exam (though I never got to tackle it in that format).
And I always had an answer that I thought was at least somewhat counterintuitive. In brief: In the period when Sombart lived and posed the question, there was and is socialism in America. It's just that in a two-party system having a few hundred thousand or a handful of million supporters means that you are a virtual nonentity. Socialist candidates and their allies scored several hundred thousand votes in myriad presidential elections in the first three decades of the twentieth century. In a parliamentary system they would have had a voice, and may have joined in coalitions with the major parties, giving them some power. But ours is not a system friendly to third parties, and none, including the socialists, have yet gained traction to the point of being a viable long-term force in American politics. It might happen someday, but the system so far has been resilient enough to fend off or co-opt such challenges.
In a very broad sense, the same thing can be said for soccer in America, though soccer and socialism otherwise have nothing in common, idiot conservative critics notwithstanding. The NFL is by just about any measure the most socialist sports league on Earth. After all, who benefits from sales of a Tom Brady jersey? Does that money go to Tom Brady? Nope. To the team for which he plays? Nope. It's split up evenly among every team in the league. Do the Cowboys get more television revenue than the Lions, given how many more people tune in to watch the Cowboys? Nope. TV revenue is split up amongst the comrades of the NFL. There may be plenty of reasons to like or dislike a sport. But tying it to one's political worldview is not one of them, and doing so is inane. All team sports are, I suppose, "socialistic" inasmuch as the individual subsumes him or her self to the larger whole. And by that measure all individual sports are more capitalistic, or democratic, or free, or what have you. But would you want to watch sports with a dullard who sees the world through such a knee-jerk and politicized lens?
People are always asking when soccer is going to take off in the United States. But it already has. And not just among kids. Soccer is tremendously popular in many circles in the US. It just is not as popular as our version of football or as baseball, or as basketball. But I have no reason to believe that it cannot surpass, if it has not already surpassed, hockey as the fourth major team sport in the United States. Furthermore, part of the reason why Americans have not embraced (but nor have they rejected) the MLS to the degree MLS boosters would hope, is that increasingly we can all watch English Premier League, La Liga, and of course the Champions League -- the best soccer in the world, in other words -- live in our living rooms.
If the two-party dominance in American politics has blinded us to undercurrents of discontent beneath the surface, the dominance of a handful of team sports, with massive fragmentation beneath those sports, has led many of us to be blind about just how big soccer is in the United States. We are not waiting for soccer to blossom here. It is blossoming. It has blossomed. And it will continue to do so.