You heard it here last
Who even cares about soccer?”
This question is too often asked by American sports fans. Yet the game dominates all other sports around the world.
So, why don’t we care about it? First, for a long time, we as a country haven’t spent much on our soccer teams. We haven’t watched them nor have we supported them. Second, most of us didn’t grow up playing the game. Our childhoods were mostly filled with football, baseball and basketball.
Finally, our men’s international teams have been terrible. They’ve failed to win (or even medal) at the olympics since 1904, and they’ve failed to advance past the World Cup quarter-finals since 1930 (they’ve only made the quarter-finals once, while they’ve failed to qualify nine times).
In stark contrast, the U.S. has been atop the sports world in nearly all other categories for the past century. We dominate the Winter and Summer Olympics. We’ve made basketball and football ours without contest, we’ve dominated baseball and we’ve held our own as a top contender in world hockey.
Our women’s soccer teams have been far more reflective of our athletic dominance as a country. They’ve won three World Cups in seven appearances and four Olympic golds in six appearances. Most impressively though, they’ve been first or second in the FIFA world rankings since the rankings first came out in 2003. The U.S. men’s team is ranked 28th.
Now, in fairness to the men’s team, many countries don’t promote women’s sports. Some don’t allow it altogether. Additionally, girls growing up in the U.S. don’t have the opportunities to play football that boys do, so many take up soccer instead. That isn’t to say the women’s team hasn’t been great; they certainly have. They’ve been dominant, and we as a country should be proud. That being said, our men's team does face a tougher road to greatness.
In the coming years, I think they’ll take steps toward realizing said greatness.
In the 2014 World Cup, the U.S. found itself in the group of death. Germany (who would go on to win the cup), Portugal (led by perhaps the best player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo) and Ghana (an underdog who actually managed to draw with Germany). The U.S. defeated Ghana, finished in a 1-1 draw with Portugal and gave Germany a thrilling match that ended in a 0-1 loss. This was enough to advance to the round of 16, where the U.S. lost an overtime thriller to Belgium.
Unlike years past, though, we watched. We cared. We prayed for an overtime goal. We felt the defeat. We asked when the next world cup would be. And we anxiously waited to see the soccer portion of the 2016 Olympics. Bad coaching and poor roster decisions kept the team from qualifying. Perhaps our interest level fell for a while, but I’m certain we will watch the 2018 World Cup with great interest.
Additionally, in the coming years our soccer teams will get better. Increased viewership for our national team has led to increased viewership for our MLS teams. This has caused their contracts to increase, and obviously has increased the demand for talent.
Our soccer teams will also get better because of risk. Parents don’t want their kids playing football due to recent discoveries about brain injuries in football. Many have turned to soccer as a solution. As kids play more soccer, our talent base increases and our future potential dramatically rises.
The increased demand and increased talent will create an upward surge for U.S. soccer. Given our country’s history of dominance in sports and our desire to be the best, it won’t be long before we reach the top.
Tyler Dean is a junior studying business administration.