Kljestan Optimistic about American Soccer

Cites fan attendance, recognition and the cover of EA Sports FIFA 10

Kljestan cover of EA FIFA 10

Photo Credit: 
EA

While hockey, baseball, football, and basketball have long dominated
the American professional sports landscape, there’s a new act in town.

It was reported on Saturday by ESPN.com that average
attendance at Major League Soccer games so far this season has surpassed both
the NBA and the NHL for the first time. MLS is averaging 18,453 fans per match
through week four, while the NBA and NHL are at an average of 17,111 and 17,005
respectively.

The news serves as just another example of the continuing
growth and success of soccer in America.

“I think it’s great,” said Chivas USA captain Sacha Kljestan of the
article. “The league is progressing a lot. There’s a lot more coverage on TV,
the fans are liking it more, and it’s becoming more mainstream.”

The statistic itself was certainly bolstered by Toronto, Seattle, and Philadelphia, who have
enjoyed strong crowds so far this season. The Philadelphia Union, for example,
opened their inaugural season in front of 35,000 fans at Lincoln Financial
Field.

“Obviously the big crowds up in Toronto,
Philadelphia, and Seattle help,” said Kljestan. “Those are
definitely fun places to play. But I think we’ve actually had pretty good
outings so far in terms of our own fans at The Home Depot Center. It’s been
good.”

Chivas USA
has averaged 15,627 fans in Los
Angeles for its two home games so far this season,
which is slightly more than their 2009 season average of 15,091.

“We have a lot of support,” said Kljestan of the Chivas USA
faithful. “We even have fans who wait for us outside of our practices to
support us, and that’s great.”

Part of the reason for the success of MLS and soccer in
American in general may be the popularity of videogames like EA sports’ FIFA
series. The game has been a best-seller for a number of years, and the 2009
edition (which features Kljestan on the cover) sold 550,000 copies in the United States.
It’s popularity helps to keep interest in soccer high.

“I think a lot of people play FIFA, even if they don’t play
soccer,” said Kljestan. “I always talk to other athletes about how they play
FIFA and like MLS.”

At the very least, the videogame, which features accurate
MLS teams and rosters, has certainly helped with Kljestan’s popularity.

“The FIFA thing has helped a lot,” he said. “A reporter was
once asking me if anybody ever recognizes me around and I said, ‘seriously
never.’ And then we went to a Clippers game and there were five people yelling
out for me. It made my girlfriend and I feel like we were celebrities.”

While MLS may still trail behind the older American pro
sports leagues in certain aspects, it might not be too long before the tables
are turned. Soccer is the number one participation sport for youth in America,
and continues to grow in popularity among older fans.

“I’ve never really thought about whether MLS would be bigger
than the NFL or the NBA, but you would think so,” said Kljestan. “Especially if
the MLS continues to grow and get bigger players. Soccer definitely has the potential
to be one of the biggest sports in the country, for sure.”