Soccer has long been the world's most popular sport, and it has experienced a more recent boom in America. Major League Soccer, however, has been slow to catch up to other professional American sports leagues.
That may be changing, though, as a study published by Luker On Trends and ESPN shows that MLS and Major League Baseball are equal in terms of avid fans between the ages of 12 and 17.
"MLS has been around since 1996," Rich Luker told ESPNFC.com. "It is phenomenal that in just one generation it has gone from zero adherents to tying MLB, especially when you recognize this is the first generation to only know the United States with a professional soccer league. MLS is in their generational DNA."
American professional soccer is in a tough spot, given the popularity of leagues overseas. But Luker says his research indicates that MLS is gaining some respect worldwide -- albeit slowly. And the league still has quite a hill to climb domestically if it's to get near the likes of the NFL and NBA, clear leaders in this demographic.
Luker couldn't pin down a specific reason for the rise -- though EA Sports's FIFA franchise is a likely catalyst -- but he said MLS will likely continue its climb in popularity.
The same cannot be said for Major League Baseball.
"While there are questions about which direction MLB will go in for 12-17-year-olds," he said, "we have no reason to believe the trend for MLS will be anything but up."