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U.S. Soccer Is Way Bigger Than You Think

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Americans don't watch soccer and never will. Nobody in this country cares about soccer. Call me when it's football/baseball/basketball season.

These sentences and more will be scrawled by retrograde trolls who've not only lived in a vacuum for the past few decades or so, but who are willing to leave millions of dollar of soccer fan spending on the table as the sport grows here. Networks, sponsors and even youth soccer -- which is changing vastly from the cluster-chasing, orange-slicing, participation-trophy-awarding stereotype its critics on all sides have formed -- are all invested in soccer's future here and are making soccer worth the nation's attention well beyond the World Cup.

We could fill a few pages on soccer's U.S. resurgence, as many have, but in the context of business it behooves us to break it down to the numbers:

3.02 million: That's how many kids participated in U.S. Youth Soccer alone in 2012. That's a giant leap from the 1.6 million that took part in 1990, and it doesn't include the hundreds of thousands who play in other organizations such as the 650,000-strong American Youth Soccer Organization.

That said, it's a number that hasn't really grown all that much since 2000 and has actually fallen from its pre-recession peak of 3.15 million in 2008. Then again, all of youth sports have seen a decline in the U.S. during that period. According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association Trade Group, participation in baseball, football, soccer and basketball fell a combined 4% between 2008 and 2012. Tackle football lost 5.4% of its participants during that span, while baseball and basketball participation dropped 7% to 8%. So why is soccer's 3 million still a good thing?

79: That's the number of U.S. Soccer Development Academy facilities that have sprung up since the organization was founded in 2007 -- just a year after the U.S. Men's National Team's three-and-out performance at the 2006 World Cup.

The dedicated academy system is spread out over three divisions -- U-13/14, U-15/16 and U-17/18 -- and operates on a 10-month schedule that starts in September and ends in June or July. Instead of leaving young players in youth, high school or college programs, the academies acclimate them to professional soccer conditions and teach them the realities of the global game. Many are attached to Major League Soccer teams, but others have affiliations with professional squads around the world. Andromeda FC in Plano, Texas, is partnered with Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League, while Crossfire Premier in Redmond, Wash., has ties to Italian Serie A club Inter Milan. While critics feel the academies are killing high school and college soccer, that may not be such a bad thing. When U.S. Men's National Team Coach Jurgen Klinsmann selected this year's roster for the U.S. men's U18 team, 14 players were products of the academy system. It's creating not only better players, but more competitive U.S. soccer.

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