Soccer grows in popularity among youths | SteamboatToday.com

Soccer grows in popularity among youths

Luke Graham

Steamboat Kickers' Maggie Hunt, 16, left, and Nebraska Stars' Kate Macken, 16, fight for possession of the soccer ball during a game at the 23rd annual Mountain Soccer Tournament in Steamboat Springs on Saturday morning.

— If the 23rd annual Steamboat Mountain Soccer Tournament is any indication, soccer in America – specifically youth soccer – is growing.

But in a landscape where the National Football League is king and Major League Baseball is the “American Pastime,” will soccer ever have its place?

“I think so,” said Shane Daniels, the coach for the Riverside Renegades, a Littleton-based team. “It’s really starting to become popular here with the Rapids and the new stadium. It’s really becoming a big sport here.”

There’s no question soccer as a whole is growing at the youth level.

Daniels said his club is seeing revitalization on many levels after struggling in previous years.

With more and more facilities being built around the state and more children starting at such a young age, Colorado is experiencing a soccer boom.

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“It’s growing all over the place,” said Todd Barkey, a coach from Golden’s Colorado Ice. “It’s probably because of the sheer competition and how many players can play.”

Barkey, who takes youth teams to Europe to play every summer, said to understand just what’s happening to Colorado soccer, people don’t have to look much further than Golden, where a new state-of-the-art athletic complex is being built.

While some of the 12 fields will be used for football and lacrosse, Barkey said the main reason for the construction is soccer.

Soccer in Colorado “is getting better every year,” Barkey said. “I don’t see it going away.”

But that still begs the question: If it’s getting better at the youth level, how about the high school, collegiate or even professional level in America?

Daniels thinks soccer is growing at every level.

Case in point, Daniels said, was two college-bound girls from his club turning down basketball scholarships to continue playing soccer.

Still, of 24 players – 12 male and 12 female – polled at the Mountain Soccer Tournament on Saturday, only two said their favorite athletes are soccer players.

But with Major League Soccer experiencing more success, the U.S. U-20 team having its best showing at the FIFA World Cup and the arrival of David Beckham, it’s easy to assume soccer may breach into the pantheon of America’s most popular sports.

“Kids are getting into soccer younger; they’re sticking to it,” said Donny Hermosillo, a coach for the Broomfield Blast. “Whereas before they might go to other sports, now that it’s gotten to where it’s at, they’re following through to the college level and, in some cases, the professional level.

“With MLS going the way it has and Beckham coming in and generating hype, it gives them a goal to shoot for.”

While professional soccer in the States might still be years behind leagues in Europe, the recent influx of talent in America suggests soccer is here to stay.

“Hopefully it keeps growing the way it’s growing,” Hermosillo said. “I think we have a good base. It’s gone on for a couple years, and I think it will continue getting better.”