By Paul Kennedy
Soccer's summer of 2015 has seen some extraordinary attendance figures
across the United States.
Major League Soccer remains on course to smash its
all-time average attendance record
set in 2014. The 2015 average is up to 21,292 a game and showing no sign of dropping as seven of the nine crowds last weekend topped 20,000.
summer events -- Gold Cup and International Champions Cup -- once again drew huge throngs
with four crowds
each of 60,000 or more for both events.
Nothing new here.
MLS attendance has steadily increased with wave after wave of expansion. Of the 10 MLS teams averaging more than
20,000 a game, nine are expansion teams that entered the league in the last decade.
The Gold Cup -- primarily but not exclusively, the Mexico national team -- has drawn well for more than
two decades now while big-name European clubs continue to fill football stadiums for the ICC even if stars go through the paces of preseason workouts at best or
aren't even around at worst (Lionel Messi
both skipped Barcelona's 2015 tour).
a few other attendance figures from the past week are worth noting:
-- Chattanooga FC set a U.S. amateur club record with a crowd of 18,227
for the 2015 NPSL final against New
York Cosmos B on Saturday night.
-- The Portland Thorns drew 15,858 fans for
their NWSL match
against the Chicago Red Stars on Sunday night.
-- Sporting Kansas City attracted 16,117 fans Wednesday night
for its U.S. Open Cup semifinal against Real Salt
Chattanooga, whose women's match between the USA and Costa Rica next Wednesday is already a sellout, doubled the NPSL attendance record it shattered the week before. Along with
strong crowds at clubs like Detroit City FC and Grand Rapids FC, the NPSL's success in Chattanooga has demonstrated the organic potential of soccer in communities below the pro level.
has also renewed talk of promotion and relegation throughout the ranks of the American pyramid, though pro/rel has zero chance of happening in Major League Soccer and would seem still far off below
the top tier, even along the lines of what NPSL chairman Joe Barone proposed to the Daily Telegraph
Sunday's NWSL crowd in Portland was higher than the 2015 average attendance of four MLS clubs: Colorado, Chicago, FC Dallas and D.C. United. The Thorns have been without superstar Alex Morgan
for all but their season opener in April, but they are still averaging 15,027 fans a game.
Unfortunately, the Thorns are outliers in the
NWSL, in terms of the enthusiasm of their followers and overall numbers. When you arrive at Providence Park for a Thorns game, you'd think you stumbled on a Timbers MLS match, such is the passion and
color of Portland NWSL crowds. That's something you'd never confuse the crowds for at any other NWSL venue. Portland's average attendance is more than triple that of all but one other NWSL team even
with their post-Women's World Cup bumps
Finally, the crowd of 16,117 at Sporting Park for the 3-1 win over RSL gave Sporting Kansas City a clean sweep of its four home games en route to
the final. Each set an Open Cup record for the largest crowd at that point of the competition in the modern era with Wednesday's crowd following up on crowds of 19,298 in the fourth round, 19,113 in
the round of 16 and 17,589 in the quarterfinals.
The catch -- if you'd call it that -- was that the crowds for the first three rounds were featured in the packages of Sporting KC
season-ticket holders as "Special Game A." Wednesday's crowd was more organic, drawn by the chance to see SKC face off against bitter rival RSL and -- well -- two hours of cheap eats -- $1 hot dogs,
$2 sodas, $3 domestic draft beers and half-price hamburgers on the pre-game menu. (The game wasn't televised but USSoccer.com's stream was
by more 88,000 people.)
A couple of other MLS Open Cup quarterfinal
were decent -- Real Salt Lake-LA Galaxy drew more than 11,000 and Red Bulls-Philadelphia game had more than 9,000 fans on a Tuesday afternoon -- but they still lag far behind Sporting
Kansas City. Sadly, KC won't host the final. In a draw held before the semifinals, Philadelphia -- which drew just 5,000 and change for Wednesday's semifinal against Chicago -- was selected as the
site of the final.
In the macro picture, the depth of the support underscores the insatiable appetite of the American public for soccer in face of often harsh weather conditions and
puts into touch the folly of those like me who suggested MLS adopt soccer's fall-spring
and effectively shut down for part of the summer.
There is no such thing, it seems, as the dog days of summer when it comes to soccer.