With Europe's top clubs playing friendlies over in North America to warm up for their new season, let's explore why football is called soccer here in the States.
The name's origins offer a fascinating glimpse of why the game takes on two different monikers across the pond.
A tale of two names
Football, as we know it today, finds its roots in mid-19th century England.
However, “football” was a generic name for many games played on foot with a ball. To separate the two sports, the version governed by the newly formed Football Association in 1863 was commonly called “association football.”
The term “soccer” is an abbreviation of “assoc,” a slang term for “association,” coupled with the then-popular practice in Oxford of adding “-er” to the end of words.
The name found its way to the United States, Australia, and the game itself. As “soccer” wasn't widespread in the U.K., it took hold in the U.S. and Australia, which didn't have established football traditions.
America's Gridiron dominance
In the United States, a different variant of football, inspired by rugby and known locally as ‘gridiron,' emerged in popularity. To avoid confusion, “football” became associated with the American variant, while “soccer” was used for association football.
Over time, the National Football League's (NFL) rise cemented “football' as the term for American football, leaving “soccer” to define the sport known globally as football.
Australia's multisport scenario
In Australia, the term ‘football' was already claimed by Australian Rules Football, a unique sport with deep cultural significance.
Rugby Union and Rugby League referred to locally as ‘football' or ‘footy,' added to the semantic confusion. The association football adopted “soccer” as its primary term, calling the national team The Soceroors.
The gradual shift
Interestingly, both countries have seen recent shifts in terminology. In the U.S., “football” now often denotes both sports, context dictating.
Similarly, Australia has seen ‘football' used more frequently for association football, particularly since the Football Federation Australia rebranding in 2005.
Essentially, “soccer” is a byproduct of historical linguistic trends and local sporting contexts. Watching how language evolves in sports will be fascinating as globalization and internet culture blend cultural boundaries.
In other words, Messi's stateside arrival and vast influence in the MLS could very well have Americans calling the game “football” with no shade of doubt.