(WGHP) — American football is in no danger of losing its preeminence in the nation’s sporting life, but there is enough room for other sports to take a foothold, and soccer might be doing just that (Did you see what we did there? Foothold? soccer?).

The game first came onto most people’s recreational radar screens in the 1970s when Brazilian legend Pele came to play for the New York Cosmos. Pele was at the end of his career since 30 was ancient in the soccer world in the early 1970s, and Pele made his debut for the Cosmos four months shy of his 35th birthday.

After Pele’s brief but brilliant stint in New York, soccer seemed to fade away with the league he played in: the old North American Soccer League. The NASL peaked at 24 teams as Pele was leaving after three seasons but was down to just nine teams by 1984 when it folded.

It was more than 20 years later when David Beckham shocked the soccer world and brought his talents and glamour to Major League Soccer, which is the league that replaced the old NASL, a dozen years after the NASL folded. 

Beckham was much closer to his prime. He’d just turned 32 in an era when players took much better care of their bodies, and he came directly from the world’s biggest club: Real Madrid.

The Major League Soccer operation Beckham came to was run much better than the old NASL. By this year, the league had expanded from its original 10 teams to 30, and had five of the 20 most valuable clubs on the planet, according to Forbes.

What could possibly take that up a notch? Well, the greatest player ever to live.

When Lionel Messi turned down nearly $1 billion from the Saudi Arabian league to come to Major League Soccer, ticket prices for games he plays have doubled. And even though he didn’t arrive until July, Messi is already the number one seller of gear in any sport on the popular website Fanatics, with shirts like the one worn by 10-year-old Juan Aparicio in Greensboro that you see nearby.

For years, though, you could see the game’s roots in America. A good example was the exhibition game played recently at UNC Chapel Hill’s football stadium between English club Chelsea and Wrexham from Wales. The game nearly sold out.

“When you look at this stadium that holds over 50,000 people, you see a lot of kids here. You see a lot of people here. I think the sport, as a whole, is growing,” said Jessie Hensley, a Wrexham supporter who was at the game.

Wrexham is one of the three oldest continuously-playing soccer clubs in the world, but they’d fallen on hard times the last few decades and were playing in the 5th tier of British soccer, which would be equivalent to something below single-A baseball in America. So seeing the reception they got across the ocean in the US was impressive to Wrexham players.

“We knew that there would be a lot of Chelsea fans here tonight,” said Wrexham goalkeeper Ben Foster. “We didn’t know how many Wrexham fans there were going to be. So when we kick off a game, and we see that many red shirts in the crowd … singing our chants, and they’re really supporting us, that was phenomenal for us. That is absolutely incredible.”

Foster knows a thing or two about a good soccer atmosphere. He played 15 years in the English Premier League, which is the best league in the world, including five years at the legendary club Manchester United.

The fact that so many Wrexham fans were there wasn’t an accident.

“We’re Wrexham fans,” said Pearson Yates, a fan from Greensboro.

“We’re Wrexham fans Because of the documentary,” Pearson’s brother Owen said.

That documentary is called “Welcome to Wrexham.” It’s the story of how Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney bought the struggling team, injected a bunch of money into it to make it viable, again and then told their story in that documentary. 

TV can be a powerful thing.

“It’s the power of TV, the power of Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhaney,” said Ollie Palmer, a star forward for Wrexham.

“They’ve not just done it about the football, they’ve done it about the people, and I think that’s the bit people buy into,” Foster said.

So who’s going to do the documentary about the time when the GOAT came to town? Yes, it’s “Getting Messi” in American soccer. Catch the show while you can, including in this edition of The Buckley Report.