Will soccer become as popular as football, baseball and basketball in the US?  That’s a great question.  But, if you were one of the 72,000+ that attended yesterday’s match between the legendary Real Madrid squad vs DC United (the MLS’ most successful team in history, you would have to say that it’s going to happen in the not-too-distant future.

Yes, many of the fans were there to see several of the world’s greatest players — Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Raul, etc — who were all part of the $375 million in transfer fees that RM paid to secure the talents of an array of highly-skilled talent.  But, there are a number of reasons why soccer will continue to grow in popularity:

– more youth are playing soccer than any other sport — there are over 18 million kids playing soccer

– there’s a significant shift occurring in the US, r.e. demographics shifts — research states that over the next three decades, the number of Hispanics in the US will grow from 15% of the total US population to 30%.  Soccer, baseball and boxing are very popular among Hispanics, but soccer reigns as the king

– the success of the US Soccer team this summer helped stoke the popularity of soccer — if the team does well in next year’s 2010 World Cup, the growth should continue to occur

– ESPN is starting to invest heavily in soccer — having a major powerhouse media partner can only help (yes, much of the coverage will be of international matches but that will still help create more soccer fans

– the MLS has excellent management in place, at both the league and team levels.  Also, some of the new ownership groups feature highly successful people from the business, finance and media worlds.  The Seattle franchise is off to a roaring success — and new clubs in Portland and Vancouver will help, too.

– having famous clubs such as Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, AC Milan, Chelsea, etc play matches in the US will continue to help grow the popularity of soccer in the US … and these clubs will benefit from gaining news fans from the US

So, in summary, soccer has a ways to go in regard being as popular as the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, NASCAR, etc, but the MLS and the sport are definitely on the way – for some of the reasons stated above.  It’s clearly moving in the right direction.  It will be interesting to observe this movement in the coming years.