One of the beauties of growing up a soccer fan in the States is that you are born with no regionals allegiances. The plains of soccer clubs is open and there are hundreds of cattle to choose from. What isn’t so obvious (or well tracked) is why American pick certain teams. You eventually pick one up along the way. But unless your parents spent their youths in the streets of Turin for example, it won’t be such an obvious choice for you.
There is definitely an appetite to know what the most popular club team in the States is. There are 37,100,000 results for the Google search: “most popular soccer clubs in the USA.” However, measurements on what makes the “most popular” stateside club can all be debated. I took some of the top results for this Google search and mentioned how they don’t truly answer the question:
These are data-driven approaches (mainly only FiveThirtyEight). But I don’t find them capturing the story of why people choose their club. I think that I could paint a better picture on how spread out favorite clubs are; that there can be a better way to measure favorite club in the States.
So I interviewed a few of my closest soccer-conscious friends as to why they picked the club they did. Although this approach doesn’t analyze data to say how Americans pic, it offers the invaluable dynamic of the human experience.
Let’s start with your lovely The First Eleven writers.
Nick Deeb: “I really got into world soccer during the ’06 World Cup. I was watching the England vs Sweden group stage match when I noticed Frank Lampard’s style of play. I really enjoyed watching him and later that year when I wanted to watch him play more regularly, I started watching Chelsea play quite frequently. And now here I am, a raving CFC fan despite the fans’ history of being racist and anti-Semitic. And I continue to stay a fan even now that he’s left the club.”
Simon Stuard: “My love for German soccer (specifically Bayern Munich and the national team) came from playing a lot of FIFA through the years (started in ’07). I decided to start a manager mode with a random team and Bayern was chosen, so there ya go!”
Matt Pekarek: “My favorite European club is Barcelona, but not necessarily because of their on field success. I had the chance to travel to Spain in high school and see the sights of Spanish soccer which makes that league much more relatable for me. It also doesn’t hurt that Barca is one of the biggest clubs in the world. There is a lot of exposure to them in the states, but I honestly didn’t care much to follow any European clubs before that trip to Spain.”
Connor Drake: “I’ll say the Crew because I live near Columbus, but feel free to make something up if you want a certain angle or something.”
Noah Toumert: “Part of me thinks the only reason I like Arsenal is because growing up in Cleveland, OH (sports-hell capital of the world) gave me a warped sense of what a relationship with a sports team should be. I’m so accustomed to being abused by my teams that it’s only natural that the one club I choose to support is just as bitterly disappointing.
But I really love them because they’re the team that my dad supports, although he gets just as frustrated as me. While the reasons he loves Arsenal are unknown to me I can say why they’re the club that I’ve grown to love as my support becomes more independent.
Only two things are guaranteed in life: death, and that Arsenal will blow the league come January. But when the men (sometimes boys) that Arsene Wenger puts out there aren’t blowing the league and play how he intends, it’s some of the best— I’d argue THE best— soccer in the world. It’s a rare combination of patience and perfection with flair and dynamism best exemplified in the best team goal I’ve ever watched live.
Cal Payne: “DROGBAAAAA.” (I think he knows this is not a club and he meant to say Chelsea)
Mike Pelagalli: “I fell in love with Adriano and in turn Inter mainly through my FIFA playing days. He was just too good.”
Adam Tabbaa: “In a word: Drogba.” (Again, this means Chelsea)
Casey O’Callahan: “I would say Everton because of my boy Timmy Howard.”
Corey Meador: “Actually was just talking with a friend about how to pick one because I don’t have one. Was thinking maybe the team that the Browns owner owns for obvious reasons.” (Lerner no longer owns Villa…)
Tri Sanguanbun: “I was eight years old. I was in Myanmar. My brother woke me up to watch the FA Cup Final. 1997 I believe. Chelsea versus Middlesborough. I remember that Zola was really good and I’m like okay I’ll support these guys. Zola became my hero. And started to watch more and more. Before that I didn’t really have team I supported.”
Adam Shokery: “United is my team of choice. It was the first club team I ever saw on TV when watching at home with my dad. I loved their continuous expectation for success how they bring up talent (Giggs, Scholes, Beckham, Ronaldo, Rooney). And the fact that they have the financial power to attract top players.”
So this reinforces (somewhat) what we saw with our more educated group of writers above. A lot of allegiances are born around a certain player and even derived through playing FIFA. I know for a fact Cal’s love of Drogba began by attempting half-field shots with Didier while playing me in the dorms in Oxford, OH. That just happened to stick.
If we take a quick grouping to these answers this is how it shakes out.
So there doesn’t seem to be many obvious rhymes or reasons for picking a favorite club amongst those I polled. Twelve is a small number to poll, so this should never be taken as the pulse of the nation.
Yet, the answers weren’t all that surprising. A player catches your eye (either in real play or on an Xbox) and you are drawn to them. The love of the club grows in parallel. If you do a quick sweep of the favorite clubs above you don’t see much that aligns with the top results for my “most popular soccer clubs in the usa” search. And it leads me to want to pole a larger sample size. Here’s to our editor challenging me with that.
And for myself? My favorite club has a similar story to that of Noah (which makes this all much more confusing since we have the same father). My father being from Algeria he had an affinity for a certain Zidane. At the point I started to truly follow the game Zidane was a Juventus player and at the beginning of the peak of his career. The rest is history. Been supporting the Old Lady ever since.