After losing to the Netherlands at the World Cup over the weekend, US male soccer players lingered on the pitch, not wanting to leave the stage, reflecting the emotions of spectators at home who fell in love with their young, exciting team.
Football and the United States have a longstanding relationship. But the talented, telegenic and multiracial Americans left their fans with soaring hopes before the USA, Canada and Mexico host the 2026 World Cup. In Qatar, the USA showed that they can play with more experienced and talented teams, and England, who scored free goals in other matches, drew 0-0 in the group stage.
The Dutch player exposed the tactical responsibilities of the USA team, their lack of goal scoring (they only scored three in the tournament) and some naive defenses with his pace and brutal finishing. But by 2026, the junior USA team will mature and be able to dig deeper into the qualifying stages. In four years more players will join the top of club play, including teammates Christian Pulisic of Chelsea, Sergino Dest of AC Milan, Weston McKennie of Juventus and Gio Reyna of Borussia Dortmund.
The USA also has a leader: 23-year-old captain Tyler Adams became a World Cup star on and off the court, kindly answering reporters’ questions about race and geopolitics, especially before a politically charged game against Iran.
The success of the USA team will also raise a long-standing question: Is football finally about to be a big hit in the United States? Despite the crowd-packed bars and all the fun of the past few weeks when President Joe Biden excitedly jumped into a microphone to announce a USA result, this team will likely be wiped out from the lives of most Americans by 2026. and the U.S. women’s soccer team, which has won Olympic gold medals, is getting more attention than its male counterparts – but their pay is just getting started.
The idea of an unexplored market of football fans soon attracted FIFA’s marketing teams for a long time, especially during the 1994 United States World Cup, but it was never fully realized. There are many cultural and sporting reasons for this. First, US sports define America’s calendar and set milestones for fans to grow together. Shortly after New Year’s Eve, it’s Super Bowl time. Then March Madness on college basketball courts. The promise of spring brings the US Masters and baseball’s opening day. When the leaves begin to fall, NFL, college and high school football begins. There isn’t much room for another big sport.
Major League Soccer is making progress, but it may never pull the American heartbeat like these other annual rites. Many Americans also resisted the temptation, seeing football as boring and low-scoring. The game’s arrogance in giving the impression that it wanted to colonize the United States – evident in media reports when David Beckham joined the LA Galaxy in 2007 – has sometimes made it a tough fit for a nation born to resist foreign influences.
Still, football makes a more permanent cultural home in the US. In the middle-class suburbs, many young children now play the games, but the most talented athletes often prioritize American football, baseball, basketball, or ice hockey. (Soccer-playing Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods could change that.) Now that many Americans play in European leagues, coaches and managers are playing the lead – as with Nottingham Forest and Leeds United in England. US investors already own Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United.
U.S. football fans have also become increasingly knowledgeable, depending on NBC’s more than $2 billion in Premier League coverage. Watching young Americans follow in the footsteps of pioneering US football players like Landon Donovan and Tim Howard overseas is now more appealing than aging foreign stars limping through their last game days at MLS. Meanwhile, immigrant communities are turning US cities into fan zones when playing home teams. In a sign of football’s growing reach and cultural acceptance, televisions showing Premier League games were easy to spot at Deep South college football backdoor parties this fall.
If the US makes a fuss at the next World Cup, the beautiful game’s place in the country’s sports scene could be consolidated. Now if they can find a striker to blow the goals…