After 2 decades, Major League Soccer has ‘arrived’

WASHINGTON – Opening day is here, for soccer.

DC United begins its 20th season this weekend at RFK Stadium. It is not only a significant milestone, but should also be considered a turning point in how soccer is viewed in the United States.

Twenty years of DC United and Major League Soccer offer plenty of evidence that soccer is truly a part of this country’s sports landscape. The question “when soccer will make it in this country” should never be asked again. It is here.

The skeptics and just plain haters, dare I say it, have kicked the sport around for the better of four decades. Many seemed to view the rise of soccer in this county as almost a threat to democracy. Or at least it seemed that way. Bad jokes about the low-scoring nature of soccer were the norm.

In the United States, soccer was a game largely played and celebrated in ethnic communities until the 1960s. The introduction of the North American Soccer League expanded soccer’s reach and popularity in the 1970s. The arrival of soccer great Pele to a team called the New York Cosmos in 1975 created a boom in interest.

Sadly the NASL went out of business in 1984. So when Major League Soccer started in 1996, there was widespread belief that it would suffer the same fate as the NASL.

Instead MLS has grown – fueled in part by the generation that started as fans of the NASL. Now after 20 years, it is fair to say it is MLS is a major league in more than just its name.

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Dave Johnson

Dave Johnson is Senior Sports Director and morning sports anchor. He first arrived at WTOP in 1989, left in 1992 and returned in 1995. He is a three-time winner of the A.I.R. award as best radio sportscaster in D.C. In 2008 he won the Edward R. Murrow award for best writing for sports commentaries.

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