When international soccer's crown jewel — the World Cup — begins on Friday (June 11) in South Africa, there ' s likely to be more interest in the games in Massachusetts than Alabama.
Massachusetts has the highest — and Alabama the lowest — proportion of youth soccer players in the country, according to a quick Stateline analysis of data collected by U.S. Youth Soccer , the nation's largest youth sports organization. The organization — which has more members than the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Little League baseball — defines a "youth" player as anyone between 5 and 19. The group has 3 million members.
Of course, participation in youth soccer may not translate into TV ratings. One of the bigger mysteries in American sports is why a country with so many soccer players nevertheless considers the game a second-tier spectator sport. And millions of adult soccer fans in the United States are not contemplated by U.S. Youth Soccer's statistics. Still, the group's numbers offer an interesting starting point in a discussion of which states may have a soft spot for " the beautiful game " — or at least have a lot of people who get the rules.
New England in general is a hotbed of soccer interest. Four of Massachusetts' neighboring states — Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont — also are in the top 10 of youth soccer players per capita. They are joined, in order from most to least, by South Dakota, Washington State, New Jersey, Virginia and Minnesota.
Meanwhile, the 10 states with the fewest registered youth soccer players per capita, in order, are Alabama, Hawaii, Arizona, South Carolina, Nevada, Florida, Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee, Louisiana and Maine.