WASHINGTON — Soccer’s popularity surged during the World Cup competition, but a less visible underdog sport called Ultimate is also gaining ground with the American public.

You can start in the nation’s capital where two professional teams are running up and down an open fields and making precision passes with a familiar hard, plastic disc.

Over a mid-July weekend in Philadelphia, the DC Current, Washington’s Major League Ultimate franchise, beat the Vancouver Nighthawks 23-17 in the second MLU championship. About a week later, the San Jose Spiders won the third American Ultimate Disc League title to cap off the team’s first season.

There’s no denying it. Ultimate, a sport also known as Ultimate Frisbee, is on the rise. It’s a free-flowing, possession game where players advance the disc down field similar to movement in Rugby – but there’s no contact.

Since 2012, two professional leagues have organized, the AUDL and the newer MLU last year. In June USA Ultimate, the national governing body of Ultimate, became a member of the United States Olympic Committee; a step closer to getting the game – once favored in backyards — played at the Olympics.

Andy Lee, USA Ultimate director of marketing and communications, equated the Olympic Committee to what other nations may call the Ministry of Sports; the top of the national sports pyramid. Lee said that membership affords USA Ultimate the chance to expand youth leagues and partner with other members like the YMCA. The added credibility could help bring about more partnerships.

Regarding other organizations that are part of the Olympic Committee, Lee says USA Ultimate will be better able “to get on the menu” as far as sport options available, giving more kids the chance to experience the sport. Overall, USA Ultimate membership in 2013 was 46,520, up about 28 percent from 2012’s membership at 36,486.

The game has grown significantly since a group of New Jersey high school students dreamed it up in the 1960s. “It involves serious fitness and conditioning,” said Nadav Pearl, 22 an Ultimate player who’s about to start working with City Year, an education-focused nonprofit, in Boston.

Ultimate is played on a field similar to that of a football field. At the start of a game – and after each score — the disc is thrown down the field,known as a “Pull,”similar to a kick off. Teams of seven try to move the disc downfield and into the end zone by passing it to open receivers.

Sounds easy enough, right? The difficulty comes from not being allowed to advance the disc on the ground. Once in possession a player must stop and maintain a pivot on the ground, and release the disc within a time limit of about 10 seconds. Failing to pass the disc, landing it on the ground or out of bounds, is a turnover, with possession going to the other side.

As the sport grows, one of the key things it has going for it is the emphasis on the “Spirit of the Game” mentality. Lee explains, “That spirit of the game, self-officiated, players being in control model… is very unique to Ultimate.”

Pearl is taken by the sportsmanship and spirit of the game, saying, “it’s something that Ultimate players bond over and take pride in.”

Pearl played youth ultimate in New York City, served as a captain Brandeis University’s team, Tron, and has tried out for both club and professional teams, such as the Boston Whitecaps.

He’s also seen the growth of the game firsthand. “More and more colleges have teams that play and compete; there are more youth leagues, programs and teams,” he said in an interview.

Another key sign of the game’s growth is its presence on ESPN and other media outlets. This year ESPN streamed a selected “game of the week” via WatchESPN, its online platform, and had the capacity to move games to ESPN or ESPN 2, if it desired. Plays from AUDL and MLU matches have begun appearing in SportsCenter’s “Top 10” and the company also provides online coverage of USA Ultimate’s college nationals.

Lee says that USA Ultimate prefers to view growth in terms of membership; it’s been growing between 8 percent and 10 percent annually for the last five years.

Leading the charge is the surge in youth Ultimate—players in high school. At this year’s Youth Club Championships, 64 teams will compete, a 33 percent increase from the 48 teams that played last year.

Growth at the youth level feeds into the older groups. Gabe Colton, 23, spent the last season playing on the Philadelphia Spinners of MLU and noticed this in his time leading his college team. In an email, he said, “One thing that is pretty evident is how many kids are coming into college with real high school ultimate experience.”

Membership in the USOC can also help improve the sport’s reputation, which historically might appeal to laid-back, non-competitive young people in sandals. It’s a sport with men’s leagues, women’s leagues and coed “mixed” leagues. The added credibility to the sport, Lee says can help local associations and teams get field space (it takes a field about 40 yards by 120 yards).

Ultimate attracts various kinds of athletes. “The best throwers don’t have to be the best receivers,” Pearl said. While players must be versatile enough to play both offense and defense, as substitutions are usually only made after a team scores a point, the skill sets needed to be a thrower or receiver can be very different; throw power and accuracy for example are absolutely necessary for handlers while ability to make cuts and get open are key skills for receivers.

Another selling point for Ultimate is that it can be played in most seasons. The college season is in the spring, pro leagues play their seasons in the summer, and club teams play largely in the fall. Winter marks a time for teams to move indoors and work on conditioning, building chemistry and practicing for the start of the season.

Where Ultimate goes from here is uncertain, but the growth in the U.S. should certainly help the World Flying Disc Federation shed the “provisional” part of its recognition and move closer to becoming an Olympic event.