After a terribly long week, isolated from the world in my rural Indiana school, I received tickets to an Indy Eleven Professional Soccer game versus Minnesota United. I had no interest in minor league soccer but went anyway and found at the game the richest community of passionate fervor I had ever experienced. All were friendly, passing out team scarves and jerseys in order to welcome every person to the Indy Eleven community. Not only was I an immediate fan, but I felt a notable impact on my mental health—and it’s happening nationally.
Soccer isn’t the most-watched sport in the US—surpassed by basketball, baseball, and of course football—yet its following is growing. Support for and viewership of Major League Soccer has risen 27% since 2012, with minor league soccer exploding in both attendance and media views. The Indy Eleven, for example, out-showed the Pacers in attendance by at least 2,000 fans in five home games this past year. With the high increase in interest, ESPN placed MLS matches on its primary channel and bumped some collegiate sports to secondary networks. Additionally, with the drama of the NFL and NBA Leagues causing viewer loss, fans have found a home in local soccer teams that spend their publicity discussing city rivalries instead of personal politics.
One of the primary reasons for the increase is the passionate communities that envelop the teams. The Indy Eleven are connected to the Brickyard Battalion, a group that brings the energy of a college fan section to the professionalism of gear, watch parties, and brand endorsements. Over 18 active affiliate groups spread over Indiana host events to promote the soccer team, bringing a sense of community and even a familial atmosphere to the team’s fanbase. These team support groups are found for most minor league and MLS teams, bringing an easy opportunity for new fans to get involved in a way most other professional sports don’t.
No, soccer may not be the favorite sport of the average American, but we should applaud the community and excitement it’s bringing to millions of fans across the United States.
Social interaction beyond the screen has become sorely lacking in the US over the last fifteen years, and the effects on social and mental health are beginning to take their toll. Social isolation has been a growing problem with a 40% decrease in community involvement since 1980. Many psychology experts agree that this trend has led to an increase in depression and hopelessness in American populations, which is why the advent of soccer communities is so important to foster. Church membership too, an important facet of community and once the most substantial community outside of the family for many Americans, has declined 20% since 2000. Stands next to a soccer pitch will ever replace the community of church pews and meals, but this is certainly preferable to nothing.
If community programs that encourage getting out of the house and meeting with others take the form of soccer, perhaps we should promote it more. Of course, soccer isn’t replacing American football, nor am I advocating that it should. From one who cared little about sports to a diehard Indy Eleven fan, minor and major soccer leagues and their affiliates may be one of the greatest things going on right now for young adults. They may not be the best source of community, but they are far preferable to the isolation of a screen.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.