The Differences Between American Soccer vs European Football

Soccer, football, or the beautiful game. Whatever name you call this sport there is no doubt that it is the most popular sport in the world with millions, if not billions, of passionate fans and players worldwide.

One interesting thing about the name of this sport is that if an American in Europe were to call this sport “soccer,” many people would either be upset or give you a side-eye look. This is because the United States is the only country that calls European Football “soccer” and when Americans say “football” they usually refer to American Football, not Association Football.

Soccer is still relatively new in the United States. Major League Soccer has only been around for three decades compared to some of the oldest leagues and clubs in Europe that have been around for nearly a century or more. With that being said, MLS is making rapid progress. Even though American soccer is still far behind European soccer the gap is closing yearly as the MLS grows in popularity, competition, and skill level.

In this blog post, I will go over the main differences between American soccer and European football.

American soccer vs European Football

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American Sports Market Vs European Sports Market

America is one of the biggest countries in the world and it has a huge and crowded sports market. MLS is the biggest professional soccer league in the country, but in terms of popularity, it is nowhere near the popularity of other major sports leagues such as the NFL, NBA, or MLB. This means that soccer is still nowhere near the number one sport in the country, but as soccer develops that may change in the upcoming decades.

In Europe, football is life and even though there are other professional sports leagues, professional European leagues are by far the most popular leagues to watch in almost every single European country. Beyond having a passion for their club teams, Europeans also have a huge passion for representing their countries at major international tournaments such as the FIFA World Cup or European Championships, something that used to be lacking in America but is now improving as well.

American soccer vs European Football

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League Structure

One of the biggest clear differences when it comes to comparing American soccer and European football is the structure of the leagues. Most, if not all, European football leagues follow a promotion and relegation system where the lowest-ranked teams get relegated at the end of the season and drop to the lower division, while the top teams either get promoted or win the championship.

A promotion and relegation system makes every single match count until the very end of the season because there is always the danger of being relegated, while a fixed system, which is what the MLS uses, does not have the same level of intensity in terms of season-long stakes. In a relegation system, all of the leagues work together and teams can climb up or drop down leagues depending on their performances.

In a fixed system, teams that end up dead last in the MLS even get first pick at the MLS super-draft which is why some teams are even encouraged to get last place, which is something that will never happen in Europe. This fixed system also makes it so that the other professional leagues in the United States, such as the USL Championship which is the second division of professional soccer, are their leagues and not part of the MLS.

This lack of a relegation and promotion system is a huge reason why Europe does not take the MLS seriously and why the intensity of the MLS is not as high as in other leagues.

American soccer vs European Football

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Soccer as a Business

Staying on the topic of leagues and business, in the top division of professional soccer in America, the clubs are managed as franchises. The MLS essentially owns all of the clubs in the MLS, which are known as franchises, and the league operates within a predetermined business model that ensures financial stability for the clubs, but does not create a strong and passional “soccer culture.”

In Europe, all of the clubs are their own entities and they are not owned by the league. For example, in English Football such as in the Premier League, the clubs are strongly embedded in their local communities and carry significant cultural and historical importance. Think about Sir Alex Ferguson’s time at Manchester United and how he was able to take the club to the top of world football by creating pride and a strong relationship between players, fans, and the club.

In America, soccer is more of a business and this does not help create the passion that other countries create when it comes to supporting football clubs. American soccer is still growing in terms of popularity, with MLS working hard to boost its visibility and commercial appeal.

The league has attracted international stars and invested heavily in marketing to enhance its profile. Increasingly, online betting offers and media coverage play huge roles in growing fan engagement and interest in the sport.

American soccer vs European football

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Player Development

One of the biggest differences when it comes to the actual gameplay of the beautiful game is that European football has a huge emphasis on youth player development through their academies. Europe has a ton of football academies that are always looking for the best talent around the world for various reasons.

Having high-level players attracts even more high-level players, it can help create a strong youth academy team, and it also helps fund the academies because if they can sell players they can make a lot of profit.

While there are also high-level youth soccer academies in America, US youth soccer is mostly about pay to play, which is a huge disadvantage. Soccer programs in the US can become very expensive and can drive out talent who are not able to afford training, equipment, travel, and more.

American soccer also has a huge emphasis on college soccer and scouting players from college through the MLS Super-draft, which I mentioned briefly earlier in this post.

American soccer vs European football

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Style of Play

The last thing to compare when talking about American soccer vs European football is the style of play. For the most part, most people would agree that European football has a much higher level of tactical and technical skills.

A lot of American players are praised for their athleticism and hard work, but compared to European players, they can be far less technically and tactically skilled. In Europe, Football is more like a chess match in which all eleven players on the field have a clearly defined role to play to get the ball up the field towards the opponent’s goal.

Compared to top European leagues, the MLS is still far behind, but every year the quality increases as better players come to the league and raise its level and standards.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between American Soccer and American Football?

American soccer is the same as European football, or Association Football, while American Football is more like Gridiron Football.

What are the best leagues to watch for American Soccer Players looking to learn more about the game?

If you are an American player who watches the MLS but wants more leagues to watch to learn more about the game check out these leagues-

  • English Premier League
  • German Bundesliga
  • Spanish La Liga
  • Italian Serie A
  • French Ligue 1


In conclusion, there are many differences between American soccer and European soccer from the league structures, business models, player development, and style of play. Although America is still far behind Europe since football is not the main sport in America, every year there are improvements, and with the rapid growth of the league, financially, and of player quality, there is no surprise if the United States eventually catches up with Europe. But who knows how long that will take?

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