In most nations around the world, people live and breathe “the beautiful game,” also known as soccer or football. The sport is an indispensable part of nearly everyone’s upbringing, whether they like it or not.
If you’re a soccer fan living in the United States, however, the experience is totally different. The soccer culture here pales in comparison to European standards. We have not just one, but arguably four sports that gain more attention nationwide: American football, basketball, baseball and ice hockey.
Yes, we have the MLS, a relatively newer league that’s slowly gaining popularity in the footballing world. But any soccer fan will tell you that the European leagues are far superior.
The level of soccer is simply much more competitive in Europe, because European clubs attract better players with more expensive offers.
Conversely, MLS has a salary cap and its teams generate nowhere near as much revenue as the top European sides. European teams just have to abide by Union of European Football Associations Financial Fair Play Regulations, which are pretty straightforward: they can’t spend more than the amount they earn.
But a more important factor as to why European clubs are able to attract top players is the history and tradition embedded in European football. Players around the world grow up watching their idols in Europe and dreaming of playing for big teams that have rich footballing histories, like Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus.
So of course, the natural thing to do as a soccer fan is to follow the European leagues, the same way basketball and baseball fans from abroad follow the NBA and MLB, respectively. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the MLS now and then. After all, it’s always nice to see the many superstars who transfer there toward the end of their careers, giving the MLS its nickname of “the Retirement League.”
Following European football isn’t as rosy from the States as it is for our friends across the pond. It takes a lot of commitment, dedication and, at times, frustration to be a part of the European football fandom.
Perhaps the most significant challenge for soccer fans in the United States is actually being able to catch the games. Watching your favorite team live and being a part of the beautiful atmosphere is one of the best experiences of being a soccer fan, but planning out a trip to the Camp Nou in Barcelona isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do, especially given the prices of food, hotels and transportation.
For the most part, we’ll stick to watching matches from the comfort of our homes — but even this option has its difficulties. Because the most competitive level of football occurs in Europe, we fans must always keep track of the time differences.
The earliest matches start between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. PST, which is not exactly the ideal time to be waking up on the weekends after a tiring week. Even if you can catch the early matches, you have to watch them on mute and resist the urge to scream “GOAL!” at the top of your lungs so as to not wake up your family or roommates.
Sometimes it can also be tough to find the channels to watch your favorite leagues. You have to pick and choose between the channel packages that offer the leagues and competitions you value most, and these packages aren’t cheap.
And if you support the less popular teams like Newcastle United or West Ham United, the channels probably aren’t going to broadcast their games unless they’re playing a popular team, or there’s no better match going on at the time.
Fortunately for soccer fans in this day and age, we have streaming services to bypass these problems. Not all of them are legal, and some are choppy at best, but that’s another story.
Life as a soccer fan in the States can also get lonely if your friend group is filled with people who couldn’t care less about soccer. But every four years, there’s an event that has enough potential for you to drag your friends into loving the sport as much as you do: the FIFA World Cup.
During this time, everyone you know is suddenly a die-hard soccer fan. You realize that this is great because you now have people to talk trash to… until you find out that they don’t know what the offsides rule is, so you have to keep explaining it to them.
Despite the struggles soccer fans face in terms of following our favorite sport, we can find hope in the fact that soccer is growing in the United States. Just because it’s always been a low-priority sport in America doesn’t mean that it has to stay that way.
The MLS is making strides every season, and American youngsters such as Christian Pulisic are making a name for themselves abroad. Big clubs are touring the U.S. every summer, and in 2026, the FIFA World Cup will be returning to the nation for the first time in 32 years.
Soccer’s future in the U.S. is bright, and fans like myself will be enjoying the ride.