Coast-to-coast soccer! 8 low-key American soccer hotbeds

Courtesy of USL

The beautiful game is thriving across North America, even outside the big cities and established MLS markets. Here are a few overlooked hotbeds.

Raleigh

Soccer fans in Raleigh, North Carolina, have proven just as willing to support their hometown women’s team as their male counterparts.

Raleigh sports the NWSL’s North Carolina Courage and the NASL’s North Carolina FC, and the similarities between the clubs are numerous and intentional. Both are owned by venture capitalist Steve Malik, and share a stadium, a color scheme and a variation on the same crest.

They also share solid attendance figures in their respective leagues. Both clubs are averaging more than 4,000 fans per game at WakeMed Soccer Park, good for the fourth-best average home attendance in both the NWSL and the NASL.

The local soccer community has also turned out in force for special events like the NCAA Women's College Cup:

The fan support has emboldened Malik to make his MLS push for Raleigh as one of 12 franchises vying for the next two rounds of the league’s expansion.

Santa Barbara

In Santa Barbara, college soccer means more than just about anywhere in the country.

Home team UC Santa Barbara led the nation in soccer attendance every year between 2007 and 2015, before being bumped into third place in 2016 by the universities of Maryland and Connecticut. Their most dedicated supporters, the "Gauchos Locos," even carry on their own memorable tradition of throwing tortillas - yes, tortillas - onto the field to celebrate goals.

The Gauchos litter the NCAA’s soccer attendance record book, and matches between Santa Barbara and rivals Cal Poly, 100 miles to the north (known as the Blue-Green Rivalry), account for a whopping 13 of the 20 all-time largest NCAA regular-season soccer crowds.

Miami

Miami still doesn’t have an MLS franchise, but that hasn’t stopped South Florida fans from getting their soccer fix.

The city’s fairly high-profile NASL club, Miami FC, attracts more than 6,000 fans per game, good for the second-highest total in the league this season.

Miami’s soccer attendance claim to fame came earlier this summer when an “El Clasico” friendly match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid sold out the 65,326-seat Hard Rock Stadium and dominated headlines in the city for weeks, proving once more why MLS is so interested in the city.

Cincinnati

FC Cincinnati’s gaudy attendance numbers have been in soccer headlines for more than a year, but big USL and U.S. Open Cup numbers aren’t the only thing the city boasts.

The club has somehow managed to attract huge crowds to international friendlies that are often overlooked even by MLS fans, most recently drawing 23,114 for a visit from La Liga’s Valencia in July. Cincy’s soccer fanbase is bolstered by a gigantic youth soccer system. 

President and General Manager Jeff Berding said the massive youth pool was one of the reasons team leaders felt support for a soccer team would come, and he claimed there are more than 50,000 youth soccer players in the Cincinnati area.

Sacramento

Like Cincinnati, Sacramento soccer fans have fully embraced their local team, regardless of their second-tier status.

Sacramento Republic FC is still drawing huge attendance numbers, and the club has sold out the 11,569-capacity Papa Murphy’s Park for every game in 2017.

USA TODAY Sports-Sergio Estrada

USA TODAY Sports-Sergio Estrada

That support has owners confident enough in the future of Sacramento soccer that they’ve broken ground on a new, $245 million, 20,000 capacity stadium in the Railyards of Sacramento. And if 20,000 seats aren’t enough for the soccer-hungry city, they’ve already got a plan to expand to 22,000.

Detroit

Soccer fans in Detroit have proved one of the most unique groups of support in American soccer.

Despite their semi-professional status in the NPSL and fans’ open disinterest in MLS, Detroit City FC draws nearly 6,000 fans per game to the 7,000-capacity Keyworth Stadium, a facility they helped renovate for their team via a community financing campaign that raised nearly $750,000.

The club’s supporters have become notorious for their impressive marches, chants, signs and other displays, which are often themed around anti-MLS sentiments. Detroit City fans say they’re happy to support their team without the requirement that they pay the league’s entry fee.

Soccer support in Michigan isn’t just confined to Detroit, however. Using the University of Michigan’s football stadium, matches in the 2014 and 2016 International Champions Cup between Manchester United and Real Madrid and Chelsea and Real Madrid are easily the two most well-attended soccer friendlies in America, drawing 109,318 and 105,826 fans.

Indiana

As Miami FC and its outspoken owner Riccardo Silva steal most of the NASL headlines, upstart Indy Eleven has become one of the most impressive organizations in American soccer’s second tier.

The club has only existed since 2013, but Indy Eleven is already churning out support. The club has averaged 8,217 fans so far in 2017, besting Miami for the NASL’s top mark by more than 2,000 per game.

And while Indy Eleven may be a new product, Indiana fans are no strangers to soccer. Indiana University frequently draws more than 2,000 fans to soccer games, and it was the most well-attended soccer team in the NCAA in 2004. At an even younger level, Indiana Soccer, a USSF member, has more than 60,000 registered youth players across the state.

Maryland

In Maryland, soccer is a longstanding part of local culture.

The University of Maryland knocked UC Santa Barbara off its perch atop NCAA soccer attendance numbers after nine years in 2016, drawing just over 4,000 fans per game. Before their disappointing loss in last year’s Division I tournament, the No. 1-seeded Terrapins drew two of the five biggest crowds in the country during the 2016 season.

Even nearby University of Maryland-Baltimore County got in on the act, drawing more than 1,000 fans per game for the 30th best attendance in all of Division I.

Maryland soccer fans have also been willing to shell out for big-name friendly matchups at FedEx Field and M&T Bank Stadium, making up four of the 15 highest-attended friendlies in the United States.

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