If you’re a new soccer fan, getting into the sport can feel a bit overwhelming. This is especially true in the US, where the sport works a little differently from the rest of the world. Soccer also sits lower on the totem pole behind other domestic sports when it comes to mainstream sports media coverage in the US, which can make it tricky to follow at times.

But no worries. We’ve got some resources and advice for you, the new soccer fan, to help you dive into the sport here in the US.

Welcome to the biggest game on Earth

Soccer (known as football in many countries) is unquestionably the most popular team sport on the planet. Nearly every country has a domestic league. Competitions such as the UEFA Champions League are massive events, and every four years the world stops in its tracks to follow the World Cup.

While the US’s professional soccer leagues may lag in popularity behind institutions such as NFL and NBA, the game itself is wildly popular in this country. The English Premier League pulls big viewing numbers each weekend, international matches draw huge crowds, and participation in the sport is as widespread as ever. The widespread availability of international soccer on TV and streaming, and things like the EA soccer video game series, have made the sport as relevant as any American sport, even if our own leagues such as MLS and USL are not as popular.

Soccer in the USA – it’s a little complicated

Soccer might seem like an afterthought in the US sports scene. But the history of the game here goes back as far as many big footballing nations. The first recorded soccer game in the US took place in 1866. Our domestic cup competition, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, has been played since 1913. It is open to every professional and amateur club in US soccer, and is the only competition of its kind in American sports.

But in the 20th century, while other sports consolidated and grew in popularity in the US, soccer suffered from self-inflicted troubles. Decades of infighting, fly-by-night clubs and leagues, and frankly lack of leadership from the sport’s governing body US Soccer have helped to prevent domestic soccer from earning a place alongside baseball, football, basketball and hockey.

Significant gains have been made domestically in the 21st century however. Major League Soccer continues to improve and grow. The NWSL is one of the top women’s league in the world. And a robust lower division (pro and amateur) landscape continues to expand in both the men’s and women’s game.

Understanding the global game

One of the most interesting aspects of soccer in the vast majority of countries around the world is the mechanism of promotion and relegation. Most pro leagues, and even some international competitions, use the system.

In American sports, teams have a permanent place in either a major league or minor league. But in soccer, performance on the field determines where you are on the pyramid. At the end of each season, the best teams get promoted to higher leagues, and the worst teams get relegated to lower leagues. The pro/rel system ensures there is accountability for teams.

The United States is one of only a very small handful of nations that do not use this system. Nearly anywhere else, a new club would start at the bottom and have to win their way up. But here, a new team pays an expansion fee (up to $325 million and rising), thereby only appealing to billionaires or investors who want to buy a franchise in order to start a new team right at the top of the pyramid.

The implementation of promotion and relegation is one of the most controversial issues in US soccer. Especially on social media, the topic has become more and more prevalent in recent years.

Diving in and picking a team

Simply watching the sport casually can be fun. But there is nothing like being emotionally connected to a club or national team. The ups and downs, the glory, the misery – it can be one of the most thrilling experiences anywhere.

There are many different reasons why you might latch onto a team. You might simply go for one that is close to where you live, or where you are from. A club might stand for the same things you stand for. A group of infectious supporters and a raucous atmosphere might draw you in. Really the only “wrong” way to pick a club is to look at the top of the standings in a big league and only choose from there.

As a new soccer fan, we hope you’ll find the above information useful in expanding your understanding of the game. And that you’ll fall in love with the sport like so many of us around the world have.

Courtesy of World Soccer Talk, download a complimentary copy of The Ultimate Soccer TV And Streaming Guide, which features details on where to watch all of the leagues from around the world on US TV and streaming.

To find out when soccer games are on, download the free Soccer TV Schedules App which includes listings of all of the live soccer matches available in the United States (available on Apple iOS devices and Android devices).