Being a soccer fan in the United States automatically comes with a heaping dose of criticism. Not only does the rest of the sporting world scrutinize the U.S. bandwagon for adopting “their” sport, “Americanizing,” and spoiling it. But our neighbors are just as quick to berate the game, quickly dismissing soccer as an over complicated, boring sport, played by sissies before even understanding rules or reason. In all, defending your love for soccer can be truly tasking.
“No, Steve making the goals larger wouldn’t make the game more exciting… Yes, I understand the score would be higher, there’s a lot more to it than just a score… Yes the point is to have more goals than the other team… Having scoring goals be more difficult is half the fun…You can’t just change the rules cause you think it would be better... Of course I want my team to have more points, Steve I think you’re missing the point…”
The thing is, as with everything, there will always be naysayers ready to rain on the parade. Luckily a couple showers have never stopped soccer supporters before. Whether people like it or not, no amount push back will be able to stop the momentum that soccer has gained in the United States. Now more than ever, there is no better time to be a soccer supporter in the U.S.
"But the U.S. has never even won a World Cup."
Um, excuse me what? Hell yeah we have! Our U.S. Women's National Team has won three, and continues to dominate as the most successful women's soccer team of all time. Don't think women's sports matter? Tell that to the 22.8 million people who watched as U.S. completely trounced Japan in the FIFA Women's World Cup Final, the most viewed televised soccer event in the nations history (played by men or women).
"Okay, but the men's team is losing."
Losing compared to what? Because compared to decades past, we've been winning a whole mess more than we normally do. We got put into the "Group of Death" for the first round of the World Cup and came out of it! No one expected that. This past spring we even won friendlies against the reigning World Cup Champs Germany and 3rd place Netherlands on their home soil. It is insane when looking at the U.S.'s performance in the past.
But yes, it's true the men's team has lost some crucial matches as of late. Over the summer the USMNT was knocked out of the Gold Cup in a heartbreaking loss to Jamaica, and just last week were crushed 4-1 in a friendly against Brazil. Some have pointed fingers at coaching staff. Others have been talking about the over extroversion of players, bouncing between their regular home teams schedule and tournaments resulting in injury and disappointing performance. Still others have been discussing the lack of youth training infrastructure to develop quality American players.
Wait. What's this? People are talking about soccer! In America? The fact that any of these discussions are taking place at all should be proof enough that soccer is finally making a permanent place for itself in U.S. sports. You don't talk about, and certainly don't have opinions on things you don't have vested interest in. We may be losing, but we've always been losing. The difference now is that people actually care that we are, and that is half the battle towards fixing things, which means we will only continue to improve.
"Soccer is not an American sport, this bandwagon will never last."
Soccer is as American as pizza... and all the other countless things we have adopted over the centuries. We didn't invent the sport, and never claimed we did but that doesn't make our support thereof any less true. So maybe we're a little late to the party that 3 billion other people in 200 different countries were already a part of. Who cares? We are here now and gaining steam by the day. Soccer has the fastest growing fan base of any sport in the U.S. Call it a bandwagon if you must, but I'd suggest jumping on.
The biennial international CONCACAF soccer tournament is on the horizon, and American soccer fans can rejoice in the fact that they enter this 2015 Gold Cup as the heavy favorites to win the title. While it may seem a tough task given the great improvements in the region (evidenced by 3 CONCACAF teams progressing to the knockout rounds of the 2014 World Cup), the USA is more than equipped to handle the competition, especially on home soil. Here are 5 points as to why America is destined to repeat at this Gold Cup:
There’s little doubt that the United States Men’s Soccer team has come far in the past 25 years. From not qualifying for a single World Cup in 4 decades, the team has reached each of the last seven. We’ve progressed through the group stage in three of the past four World Cups, proving that our team is quite good. But that final step is often the toughest. How can America go from being a decent team to one that regularly contends for and actually wins the World Cup?
Outside of truly elite nations like Brazil, Germany, Italy, France, Argentina, Spain (and England and Uruguay half a century ago), nobody else has claimed the World Cup. Let’s take a look at those nations and what makes them so special in the sport. First off, they have a passionate fan base that loves the game of soccer far above anything else. Their nations’ entire youth grow up playing the sport, and they’re hundreds of soccer clubs placing the top talent into development programs from the age of 10! With thousands of kids all gunning for professional careers, only the best will make the national team.
In America, young athletes have a wide array of options. Football, basketball, and baseball often prize away our top athletes. Only recently has the MLS grown in stature and popularity to the point where it can inspire our youth to play the sport. As a nation, America actually has the greatest potential for building a World Cup contender. Our population greatly exceeds most competitors, and our multi-cultured environment welcomes immigrants from all over the world. Top talent can certainly be within our grasp, as we’ve seen recently with foreign-born USA internationals like John Brooks and Jermaine Jones. But ultimately, to become great, we must foster a crop of stars from our soil.
Players with exceptional talent need to be focused on the sport from a young age in their own localities. America does have an impressive youth sports training program through IMG (which has produced stars like DaMarcus Beasley and Aron Johannson), but it requires players to be sent away to Florida and is quite expensive. Local players would benefit most from focused programs close to their home at lower prices. MLS clubs are doing just that and have been expanding their youth options. This is great, but ultimately we’ll just have to be patient and see if solid pro players develop from such programs.
The good thing to point out is that we are on the right path, and there have been solid American performances at major tournaments, including five Gold Cup titles. The World Cup is something different though, and the USA needs superstars to win such an event. Right now the only such player who could even be argued for as such is goalkeeper Tim Howard, who’s proven his worth for over a decade playing in the English Premier League. He had a record-breaking performance at the 2014 World Cup, saving 15 shots in a single game against Belgium, though as evidenced by the 2-1 loss, he simply cannot do it alone. Given his advanced age, his career is nearing its end and America will soon lose this hero. To win a World Cup, we’d need at least five players of that caliber.
In a certain way it’s unfortunate that our top stars like Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore recently came back to the MLS. While it’s exciting for fans and could help long term by inspiring more kids to play the sport, to become elite we need stars at major European clubs competing week in and week out against only the best. It raises their level of play and prepares them for the biggest of games.
There are great American prospects playing in Europe like Brooks, Johannson, Julian Green, and Timothy Chandler. However, they need to get from the fringes of such European clubs to become regular first-teamers and impact players. As long as the majority of our American soccer stars continue to have mediocre professional club careers, ultimately such will be the result of our national team.
Lastly, I feel there is the issue of belief amongst the American squad when it comes to the World Cup. This isn’t just an American issue; it affects all those top 20 (but not top 5) nations worldwide. Whenever it comes to a major match against a heavyweight, the jersey across the field intimidates them, and they simply cannot beat them. I understand; I’m sure it would be terrifying to line up against a Germany or Brazil with the World Cup on the line, but until our team beats one of these guys in the knockout rounds, or even just the decent team we need to beat in order to get into that match, then we’ll always be a step below elite. Sure, we’re fighters, and can sometimes scrape out a draw or win in a friendly against a major nation, but we need players ready to step up on the big stage who can challenge the elite on skill level alone. That’s when our fighter’s mentality will push us over the top.I feel Jurgen Klinsmann is getting the team in the right direction, especially with his own personal success on the biggest stage. American soccer must be patient. Our developing youth system is improving and we’ll one day see the results of such persistence. Our day will come; it’s just a matter of wh