The U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF), is commonly referred to as U.S. Soccer. It is a nonprofit entity and is the official governing body of the sport of soccer in the U.S.
Headquartered in Chicago, the federation is a full member of FIFA and governs American soccer at the international, professional, and amateur levels, including: the men’s and women’s national teams, Major League Soccer, youth organizations, beach soccer, futsal, Paralympic and deaf national teams. U.S. Soccer sanctions referees and soccer tournaments for most soccer leagues in the United States. The U.S. Soccer Federation also administers and operates the U.S. Open Cup, SheBelieves Cup, and the Tournament of Nations.
As of May 2015, over 24.4 million people play soccer in the United States. In 2017, Gallup reported that soccer was the third-most watched team sport in the U.S., behind only basketball and American football. The popularity of the sport in the U.S. has been growing since the late 1960s and received a significant boost when the United States hosted the 1994 FIFA World Cup and 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup. It is the fourth most popular sport in the United States behind American football, baseball, and basketball.
The highest-level men’s professional soccer league in the U.S. is Major League Soccer (MLS). MLS began to play in 1996 with 10 teams and has grown to 27 teams (24 in the United States and 3 in Canada), with further expansion planned to 30 teams. MLS is currently the largest first division professional football league in the world. The MLS season runs from February to November, with the regular-season winner awarded the Supporters’ Shield and the post-season winner awarded the MLS Cup. With an average attendance of over 20,000 per game, MLS has the third-highest average attendance of any sports league in the U.S. after the National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball (MLB), and is the seventh-highest attended professional soccer league worldwide. MLS uses franchised clubs similar to other major U.S. sports leagues, rather than the promotion and relegation model used for club football in other countries such as the United Kingdom.
The first women’s professional soccer league in the U.S. formed after the success of the 1999 Women’s World Cup. The Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) ran from 2001 to 2003 and featured many of the World Cup stars, including Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers and Brandi Chastain. Its successor Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) ran from 2009 to 2012. Currently, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is the top professional league in the country and was formed in 2012. The NWSL season runs from spring to early fall (typically April – October).
U.S. soccer fans also follow the U.S. national teams in international competition. The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final drew a record 26.7 million viewers, greater than final games of the 2014 World Series or the 2015 NBA Finals, and the 2010 Men’s World Cup final drew 26.5 million viewers. The women’s national team has won four Women’s World Cup titles and four gold medals at the Summer Olympics and the men’s national team played in every World Cup from 1990 to 2014.