It was a disappointing loss for the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team as they lost in extra time to Belgium 2-1. This can be the discussion about the crazy, amazing performance Tim Howard had with 16 saves. This can be a discussion of how Chris Wondolowski missed opportunity and how it will haunt him for the rest of his life.
I’m going to write about the pain we felt on Tuesday was great for U.S. Soccer in the long-term. In the past World Cups, we have always rooted for the USA to win. That’s typical, but when they’re out, they were gone in our memories.
In 2010 it’s where I think the tide turned. You saw the same loud crowds this year as you did in 2010. This year is more profound because it was in Brazil and and time difference was not bad. This makes me ask why now soccer will stick in America? Social media.
When social media (talking about Facebook and Twitter) came to prominence in 2007-08, people can talk about any subject in the open and your message was going global. It was the right time soccer fans to come out and talk about the sport. Real soccer fans understood Europe has the best leagues and the best players and they can talk about it on social media. Those messages infiltrate to other sports (and casual) fans to watch soccer in the morning, most likely the English Premier League. That made the English Premier League and the UEFA Champions League valuable on TV. That is why NBC and Fox Sports, respectively, ponied up a lot of money to get those rights and it is paying dividends. To me, that’s where soccer in America arrived.
In 1996, Major League Soccer (MLS) debut after a successful 1994 World Cup in the United States. This was suppose to boost interest soccer in America. However, it turned off many fans: the backwards clock, clock froze, playing in big stadiums that were mostly empty, trying to be bigger than the major four. MLS was struggling. Fast forward eight years later and MLS tried to hype up Freddy Adu and became a bust, but at the same time, MLS downsize and it is reaping the benefits. The building of new soccer-only stadiums, like in Columbus, OH and Los Angeles, that have a few more seats than an indoor arena, can be filled with soccer fans. Having people filling the seats jumping and chanting makes it better for TV and it shows. MLS has new TV deal with ESPN, Fox Sports, and Univision starting in 2015.
So when people ask today what’s next for American soccer, casual and other sports fans have to realize this will take awhile. For starters, the U.S. Men’s Soccer team have tons of physical talent, but very little technical talent. As you saw in this year’s World Cup, the U.S. passing and possession is not up to par to the Europeans. I felt I was watching the 1998 Stanley Cup Final between the skilled Detroit Red Wings and the scrappy Washington Capitals again. This is why Jurgen Klinsmann was brought on as coach. He will teach his players how to be technical and working on the little details of the game. Klinsmann will also be responsible of building up the youth teams (U-18, U-21) to become more competitive and refine their approach. I think fans expect with Klinsmann’s track record that he can bring a World Cup to the US. That’s a lot to ask since World Cup coaches to stay beyond for one cycle (4 years), but some do comeback years later. Klinsmann is there to build a culture of winning and success like he did with Germany and can get USA to the next level (quarterfinal, semifinal).
As for MLS, think of with the KHL-NHL relationship. MLS is really the minor leagues to the European clubs and where old soccer stars from Europe come to the U.S. to say thanks. MLS’s real job is to find talent and shipped them to Europe to become real stars, globally. This is why some soccer fans want Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore to stay in Europe because they can watch them grow into superstars. Now, U.S. Soccer fans will have to root for Julian Green, John Brooks, Fabian Johnson, and others to become stars in Europe to really be interested in Russia in 2018.
In addition, youth soccer, in the U.S., has boomed the last five years (this past year was flat), and youth football participation has dropped because of cost and worries of concussion. To be fair, soccer has the same concussion problem, but the head is not an essential part of soccer and can be restricted in youth programs. Hell, the Premier League can replace cartoons as the kid favorite Saturday morning show, when most of the Premier League games are played and a great moment for kids to actually see the best soccer stars and try to emulate that in their local soccer pitches. U.S. Soccer has a bright future.
For the casual and your average sports fan, the important number to know is 2026. This is where FIFA will pick its next location for the World Cup and chances are the U.S. are the front-runners because it’s the year the United States celebrate 250 years of independence (although, it’s FIFA). Expect 2018 in Russia and 2022 in Qatar as the USA getting respectability as a soccer power and in 2026 is where the USA are considered the favorites and have players who physically AND technically talented.
Side Rant: I’m going to miss ESPN’s coverage of the World Cup and sad that I have to watch Fox Sports after this World Cup to 2022 to get my soccer fix. I know there’s talk of the U.S. getting the 2022 World Cup if FIFA takes it away from Qatar, but if that’s the case, I want to be in a different country like Germany or England and have the United States get it in 2026. When the negotiating window opens for 2026, I want either ESPN or NBC to outbid Fox for those rights. People might not like ESPN, but I would rather have them covering a sporting event than the goons at Fox.
The question should not be if Soccer has arrived in America. It arrived a long time ago. What people should be asking is when (not if) the U.S. becomes a global soccer power? We have 12 years to know.