Although it is clearly the world’s most popular team sport, soccer has historically been considered a “foreign” or “ethnic” sport in the United States because of its identification with European and Latin American immigrants. The game has grown to be one of the most widely played youth sports in American cities, suburbs, and rural areas alike but continues to be most strongly supported by immigrant communities.
Since its arrival in the United States, soccer has been associated with the immigrant experience. It was among the first games English settlers brought with them to the American colonies. Although the histories of soccer and American football in the United States can be traced to identical beginnings, soccer in the end lost out to its American cousin and was relegated to a game mostly enjoyed by Europeans and other immigrants.
The English colonists who settled in the United States brought one of their favorite pastimes with them: football. Historians agree that a form of the game was played in Virginia as early as 1609. Throughout the nineteenth century, scratch teams of British immigrants participated in the sport, along with some high school and college teams. By 1860, more than a dozen colleges located on the Atlantic seaboard had taken up the sport. After the rules of “association football” (from which the word “soccer” is taken) were formalized in Great Britain, Princeton and Rutgers universities played the first official game in the United States under these on November 6, 1869. At the time, it appeared that association football might become a major intercollegiate sport. However, a solely American form of football was then emerging that would soon displace it. This new game, which would become known as American football, evolved out of rugby football, which in turn had evolved from soccer. In contrast to soccer, both rugby and American football permitted players to carry the ball with their hands. American football eventually departed from rugby in allowing forward passes–a feature that would come to characterize the American game during the twentieth century.
Meanwhile, through the last quarter of the nineteenth century, soccer began a sl ow and painful climb to popularity outside the university and professional framework. Through the 1880’s, newly arrived Irish, English,
While these developments were unfolding in the United States, the British were planting the seeds of association football throughout Europe, where the game grew rapidly in popularity. As a result, the throngs of European immigrants who changed the face of the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries also carried their newfound adoration of soccer to the New World. Ethnic football clubs and leagues such as the German American league, Greek Americans of New York, and Brooklyn Hispano played an essential role in promoting American soccer and socialization among immigrant groups.
By the 1920’s, soccer had become popular enough in the United States to form its first professional league, the
As international soccer competitions developed, the United States fielded teams, but these were made up predominantly of immigrants. The U.S. national team that competed in the first
One of the greatest upsets in international soccer history occurred during the 1950 World Cup competition in Brazil, where the United States defeated powerhouse England, 1-0, in a first-round game. Three important players on that U.S. team and its manager were immigrants. Joe Gaetjens, the center forward who scored the winning goal, shown here being carried off the field after the game, was a Haitian citizen. He was allowed to play for the United States because he had declared his intention to become an American citizen, but he never naturalized. He eventually returned to Haiti, where he was killed–apparently by one of President François Duvalier’s death squads–in 1964. He was inducted in the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame in 1976.
Three decades after World War II, things began to change. In 1975, the recently formed
The Americanization of soccer appeared to have begun. NASL even began limiting the numbers of foreigners allowed on its teams, and U.S.-born players and coaches began to move up the professional ranks. NASL eventually folded, but during the 1990’s, the U.S. men’s national soccer team became a fixture in
Despite the growing Americanization of the game, the love affair between soccer and immigrants in the United States never abated. Indeed, as most of the new immigrants entering the country during the twenty-first century are coming from soccer-crazed countries in Latin America, eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia, the numbers of immigrant soccer players and fans in the United States are becoming larger than ever. Their numbers are particularly evident at games played by visiting teams from Latin America, at which fans supporting the foreign teams generally outnumber those supporting the American teams.
Allaway, Roger. Rangers, Rovers and Spindles: Soccer, Immigration and Textiles in New England and New Jersey. Haworth, N.J.: St. Johann Press, 2005. History of how British workers in the textile mills popularized soccer in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Goldblatt, David. The Ball Is Round: A Global History of Soccer. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008. Up-to-date, comprehensive, and entertaining history of world soccer, with considerable attention given to the game in the United States. Hollander, Zander, ed. The American Encyclopedia of Soccer. New York: Everest House, 1980. Comprehensive reference source that provides an overview of the sport’s history, leagues, tournaments, and collegiate competitions in the United States. Logan, Gabe. “The Rise of Early Chicago Soccer.” In Sports in Chicago, edited by Elliot Gorn. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2008. Attempt to prove that Chicago immigrants embraced not only soccer but also such American sports as football and baseball. Markovits, Andrei, and Steven Hellerman. Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001. Exploration of how the professionalization of sports such as football and baseball helped to marginalize soccer in the American sports scene. Wangerin, David. Soccer in a Football World: The Story of America’s Forgotten Game. London: WSC Books, 2006. Provides a history of soccer in the United States and explains why this sport has been considered “un-American.”
Latin American immigrants
Latinos and immigrants
World War II