Most of the world calls it “football,” but in the United States and Canada it’s called “soccer.” To Americans and Canadians, football is a contact sport played with an oblong spheroid. Soccer’s official name is “Association football,” the term comes from “The Football Association” who, in 1863, codified the game. Although it’s a bit of a stretch, the word “soccer” is derived from the word “association.”
The sport’s other nicknames are “footie,” “the beautiful game,” and “the world game.” That last epithet speaks to the fact that more than 250 million men and women play the sport in more than 200 countries. With a doubt, soccer, football, or whatever you want to call it, is the most popular sport in the world.
The ultimate prize in the soccer universe is the World Cup. That’s a tournament involving national soccer teams. The World Cup is organized by the International Federation of Association Football or FIFA (its French name actually spells out “FIFA”). FIFA is also the sport’s international governing body. The cadre underneath FIFA includes six regional associations.
These regional associations not only organize tournaments for national teams but they also organize tournaments for clubs (in America they’d be called “sports franchises”). For example, UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) runs the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League. Many countries, whether in Europe, Asia, or South America, have their own professional league.
Europe’s leagues generate the most soccer revenue and attract the world’s top players. The continent’s top pro leagues are the English Premier League (to which Manchester United belongs), France’s Ligue 1, Germany’s Bundesliga, Italy’s Serie A, and Spain’s La Liga.
In the United States, soccer is nowhere close to being the country’s most popular sport (or its second or third), but it has made huge strides since hosting the World Cup in 1994. The top league in the U.S. and Canada is Major League Soccer, a member of CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football).
MLS was founded in 1993, and as of 2012, has 19 teams including the Los Angeles Galaxy, D.C. United, New York Red Bulls, Chicago Fire, and Toronto FC. MLS has succeeded where other North American soccer leagues have failed by playing in soccer-specific stadiums, developing American talent, and keeping expenditures low. The MLS season runs from March to December and culminates in the MLS Cup.
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