As of 2024, ninety-four men’s soccer teams in the United States are designated as professional. That spans Major League Soccer, the USL Championship, MLS Next Pro, NISA, and USL League One. Granted, it does not include all of MLS Next Pro, because many teams in that division are reserves. While 94 professional men’s teams are encouraging, it’s tiny compared to how many people live in the United States.

For instance, Derek Reese compiled the data that lists how many clubs there are based on the population of the United States. He found that there is one club for every 3.5 million people. His research shows how few teams the USA has in comparison to the populations of other Western countries:

For example, eight countries have won the World Cup. Each of them has a far lower people-per-club ratio. In other words, there are more clubs per person, which allows more academies, opportunities, and places for fans to show their support. Having more clubs in the United States would afford those opportunities.

Comparing professional clubs in the United States to others

If other countries that have success internationally followed the same trend as the United States, the outlook of professional clubs in the area vastly changes. Take Uruguay, for example. There is one professional club in Uruguay for every 114,809 people. To be fair, Uruguay is far smaller than the United States in both population and size. If Uruguay had the same ratio as the United States, there would be one professional club.

That is an extreme case, as Uruguay is by far the smallest nation to win the World Cup, and it has not won since 1950. England has not won a World Cup since 1966, but few would deny how potent England is as a soccer nation. There are a massive 164 professional and semi-professional soccer clubs in England. That leads to one club for every 344,734 people in England.

If England were to follow the same ratio as the United States, there would be 19 clubs in total. That equates to roughly one or two clubs per major city in England. Yet, if there is one thing that stories like Luton Town, Leicester City, Brighton and Hove Albion and other clubs from ‘smaller’ cities say, it is that clubs often take advantage of the opportunity. Many of the players in England’s squad did not come through the top academies in England. Jude Bellingham was in the Birmingham City Academy. Harry Maguire came up through Sheffield United. Ollie Watkins is a product of Exeter City, which is currently in League One. The fact remains that having so many clubs gave these players the chance, and they took it.

Reese summed it up himself when presenting the data. Smaller communities in the United States deserve clubs of their own.

Limitations to setting up new clubs

Certainly, there is a major challenge in simply creating new teams. They are expensive, and it is hard to grow a fandom when there are established clubs in the area. For example, someone in New York may be less inclined to watch one of the many local teams in the area when New York City FC is more established. Likewise, there are formatting concerns preventing more professional clubs.

The lack of promotion and relegation, a much-discussed topic here at World Soccer Talk, prevents the possibility of professional clubs truly growing. The Indy Eleven, for example, can only max out its success at the USL Championship. Fans outside of Indianapolis may look to clubs like the Chicago Fire, St. Louis CITY or FC Cincinnati. Those MLS teams are at the top, and they are all within a three-hour drive from Indianapolis. The closed systems in US soccer that are all nationwide have hampered national growth.

Finally, there is one major thing soccer in the United States must contend with that other countries do not. There are many more sports, both professionally and from a grassroots level, in the United States. Football, baseball, basketball and even ice hockey are popular sports in the United States. Soccer continues to grow in popularity, but it will always have to contend with other sports for fans’ eyes and interaction.