Best Places to Live

2012 10 Best Soccer Cities

Want to get a feel for the quality of life a city has to offer? Then check out its soccer scene – often the best soccer cities indicate a great quality of life. 

Even if you don't play what has become the most popular youth sport in the country, a quick look at a city's soccer scene can offer clues about what the community is like. The size of soccer clubs, the quantity and quality of playing fields, and the number of tournaments a city hosts can give potential residents an indication of what it would be like to live there.

We set out to look for small to mid-size cities with the best soccer programs and facilities and crossed paths with the leading youth soccer organization in the country, US Youth Soccer. More than 3 million players between the ages of 5 and 19 are registered with US Youth Soccer, which oversees tournaments and provides guidelines and rules that most soccer leagues follow. The group has a team of tournament organizers who select which cities will play host to regional qualifying tournaments and national championships across several age groups and skill levels. When it came to identifying the top soccer cities, we followed US Youth Soccer's lead. 

"When we are looking to host events, the quality of the complex is our top priority," says Todd Roby, director of communications at US Youth Soccer. "This generally indicates what a community has invested in the sport and their interest in growing the game."

We found that cities with impressive, well-maintained soccer complexes and large soccer clubs also have great parks, well-maintained streets and a host of other amenities that provide residents a high quality of life. Soccer, a sport played by more than 18 million people across the country, becomes engrained in a city's culture. In places like Appleton, WI, and Rock Hill, SC, soccer communities are tightly knit. Players, parents and coaches look out for one another and remain loyal to their clubs, colleges, and major league teams.

"There is a sense of community and camaraderie developed in soccer that is hard to match," Roby says. "When paired with the disciplined teamwork of soccer and the healthy lifestyle promoted by activity in youth sports, the quality of life in any community that embraces the sport is enhanced."

So take a look at the cities we've selected as the best emerging soccer communities in the country. These places have invested in their future by investing in soccer.

Ranking Criteria
Small to mid-size cities
Quality of the soccer complex
Community amenties, such as parks and other outdoor fitness opportunities
  • 10

    Princeton, NJ

    Population: 28,936
    Photo: Oleg Shushkovsky

    Princeton, NJ, is home of some of the best soccer fields in the country. It's where the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team recently held a training camp.

    The city is a soccer mecca with more than 20 soccer organizations in the area. Some of the best college soccer in the country is played in and around Princeton, home to Princeton University. Soccer teams from Princeton and nearby Rutgers, in Newark, have a fierce rivalry. Princeton University is home of Roberts Stadium, an $8.4 million soccer facility with seating for 3,000 fans. Princeton is also home to one of the top male college soccer players, Antonie Hoppenot.

    Mercer County, where Princeton is located, has a soccer hall. Soccer has been a part of the county for 100 years, and each year new players are inducted into the Mercer County Soccer Hall of Fame. Mercer County maintains a 2,500-acre park that includes 17 soccer fields, which are located a short drive from Princeton.

    The Princeton Soccer Association is a leading youth soccer club with a combination of teams that compete in recreational leagues and highly competitive travel programs. The nearby Match Fit Chelsea club, which runs an exclusive soccer academy to develop high-level players, often holds camps in Princeton and draws players from the city. The Match Fit Academy has produced more than 20 U.S. National Team and pro players.

    What else is here:

    Located in Princeton are more than 10 wildlife refuges, arboretums, gardens and passive parks. The city also has a large community pool.

    Mercer County has 12 miles of hiking and horse trails, a historic farm, and lake.