As the USA is set to open its World Cup play today against Ghana, passionate soccer communities thrive in big, diverse cities such as Chicago, Dallas, Miami, New York and Washington.
But based on interviews, TV ratings, attendance and the landscape of youth, adult and professional teams, USA TODAY Sports came up with three cities that stood out for their atmosphere, participation and long ties to the game's development here.
Finding the best city to watch live soccer begins in downtown's Pioneer Square. Thousands of emerald and green scarves are held outstretched overhead.
"Once you go to a game in Seattle — you could be in London, you could be in Germany — the environment here just blows you away," said Ted Smith, co-host of The Men's Room on 99.9 FM KISW in Seattle.
Major League Soccer fans are not beholden to supporter traditions. Seattle Sounders fans in particular have forged the way for American soccer support, Smith said.
"Singing for 90 minutes and chanting and never stopping and continuing, showing that vocal passion, is a very English style of support," said Aaron Reed, co-host of the Emerald City Supporters, which supports the Sounders. "They do that a lot. We also enjoy throwing up a large 'tifo,' " a visual display put on by fans in the stands. "Tifos are sort of a continental European thing — you'll especially see the Italians throwing up large choreographed displays to show their support for their teams."
The tifo for a Sounders game against the Portland Timbers spans seven stadium sections, depicting four Sounders atop white horses.The four horsemen are coming for you, Timbers.
Passionate crowds give the Sounders a home-field advantage. The team broke the MLS attendance record for the fifth consecutive season in October, averaging 44,038. This season the team leads the Western Conference, posting a league-best 6-2 record at home.
"When you sit in the south end, it is a commitment. Jumping, screaming … you name it," Smith said. "You've got to be locked in for the full 90 (minutes)."
In Seattle, they cheer. In Los Angeles, they play.The area produces some of the best talent in America.
On the U.S. team playing in Brazil, midfielder Michael Bradley calls Manhattan Beach home and goalkeeper Nick Rimando was born in Montclair and played at UCLA. He's the 15th Bruin to play in the last seven World Cups.
"The culture of soccer in Southern California is part of the fabric of life there, in every respect," U.S. Soccer Foundation President and CEO Ed Foster-Simeon said. "You have a strong state association in Cal South to help develop talent. They get talented players to the highest level. You have a very potent formula."
With 42 age-group national titles since 2001, Cal South has more national titles than 40 other state associations combined. Four members of the U.S. women's team that won gold in the 2012 London Olympics are Cal South alumni. Cal South CEO John Weinerth wants his players to comprise at least a quarter of all U.S. national teams.
"We want to provide the full pyramid of soccer to Southern California," he said. "The foundation of this is thriving recreational programs. … We currently have about 80,000 kids playing in a recreational environment."
Even the art scene in Los Angeles has a little soccer influence. Chris Beas' Futbol: The Beautiful Game is being shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
"I'm attracted to figures who sort of take on this myth-like quality. The fans turn them into a sort of god," said Beas, a life-long Manchester United fan who then immortalizes the players in paint.
Los Angeles loves watching soccer, too. For the World Cup opener Thursday between Brazil and Croatia on ESPN, Los Angeles ranked fourth nationally in the top 10 metered markets behind Washington, Boston and Miami-Fort Lauderdale. On Univis<HH>ion, which broadcast the game in Spanish, L.A. was second only to New York in the top 10 markets.
In the early part of the 20th century, soccer had a foothold on the East Coast. Leading teams included Bethlehem Steel, the Paterson Silk Sox, Providence Clamdiggers and Newark Skeeters before the Great Depression. The American Soccer League folded in 1931.
Many of the more talented players moved on to teams such as the one sponsored by St. Louis department store Stix, Baer & Fuller. For five seasons in a row, teams from St. Louis played for the national championship. Before long, St. Louis became a hotbed of American soccer.
The Catholic Youth Council began a year-round training program. Manchester United, Liverpool and Bayern Munich came to St. Louis to play the CYC Soccer All-Stars. Fifty years ago, CYC played Liverpool to a 1-1 draw.
"I really don't think it's too far-fetched to say that any degree of respectability or recognizability or newfound cachet that the sport has today is directly responsible in a lot of ways to what St. Louis started a century ago," said Bill McDermott, known as "Mr. Soccer" in St. Louis as the public address announcer for Saint Louis University since 1972.
No city is better represented among honorees of the National Soccer Hall of Fame than St. Louis, which boasts 28.
St. Louis continues to develop some of the top talent in the country. Saint Louis University has 10 NCAA men's titles. SLU alumni have played in the last six World Cups. Two Billikens — midfielder Brad Davis for the USA and striker Vedad Ibisevic for Bosnia and Herzegovina — are keeping the tradition alive in Brazil.
"With Bosnia in the World Cup, Vedad is somebody the city of St. Louis can really rally around," SLU men's soccer coach Mike McGinty said. "Vedad is their story — the immigrant story, the refugee story. The kid goes back to the homeland and helps lead his country to the World Cup."
Several Major League Soccer teams will have viewing parties for today's USA-Ghana game. A FIFA World Cup SoccerFest and Viewing Party is set for Bethlehem, Pa.
Chicago: Grant Park
Colorado Rapids: Skyline Park, Denver
Columbus Crew: Fado Irish Pub
FC Dallas: Alamo Drafthouse
LosAngeles Galaxy: Hermosa Beach Pier
New York Red Bulls: Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.
Philadelphia Union: Tir Na Nog
Orlando City SC: Wall Street Plaza
San Jose Earthquakes: St.James Park, San Jose
Sporting Kansas City: Kansas City, Mo., Power & Light District