Soccer has never been close to being the most popular sport in the United States, but former World Cup winner Patrick Vieira thinks that will change.
"I strongly believe that soccer will be the No. 1 sport in this country in a few years," said Vieira, currently the New York City Football Club's head coach, at the team's media day Thursday.
"I was just reading the news that the game that we played against Orlando [Florida] was like 14-15 percent more viewers," said Vieira, who won the World Cup for France in 1998. "I'm not surprised at all because when we are working at the stadium in New York or when we play away, there's always people around asking for autographs."
Winning over fans in the United States has involved bringing over some of the bigger names from Europe. For NYCFC, which plays in Major League Soccer, they include Italian legend Andrea Pirlo and David Villa, Spain's all-time leading goal scorer.
That said, bringing the two stars to New York was not cheap. Villa and Pirlo sported two of the 10 highest base salaries last season, with both making around $5.6 million, according to data from the Major League Soccer Players Union.
But NYCFC's investment has paid off at the box office.
Last season, the club had the highest away attendance of any MLS team, and averaged 27,000 fans at its home games.
NYCFC will have its first home game of the season Sunday against D.C. United.