Why US Soccer Is at the 'Tipping Point' of Getting Good
Over the past year, the United States Men’s and Women’s National Teams have experienced some pretty extreme highs and lows.
In February, the men experienced an iconic victory over Euro runner-up Italy, and last summer the women defeated Brazil in the World Cup quarterfinals in one of the most exciting games of all time.
During that same year, the men were humiliated by Mexico in the final of last summer’s Gold Cup and the women were beaten by Japan in penalties in an emotionally crushing defeat in the final of the World Cup.
Despite the lows, soccer in the United States has continued to grow and improve and America now finds itself at a generational “tipping point.”
Here are four reasons the United States is poised to be even better over the next decade.
U.S. Soccer Fans Are No Longer OK with Losses to Mediocre Sides
Since the USMNT re-emerged on the world scene with its qualification for the 1990 World Cup, many U.S. fans, even hardcore ones, have understood that the road to become a quality team would be a long one.
Knowing that, losses were accepted, even while the occasional upset over a big-time opponent showed American fans what could be in store for the future.
However, in the last few years, U.S. fans have become increasingly upset at unexpected losses, and the decisions of coaches and U.S. Soccer officials are no longer shrugged off as “growing pains.”
Perhaps the biggest example of this was the grassroots pressure exerted on U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati to replace former head coach Bob Bradley after the U.S.’s disastrous showing in last summer’s Gold Cup.
U.S. fans are no longer willing to sit back and rationalize their team’s defeats; they now expect wins and will not accept complacency on the part of their coaches or U.S. Soccer administrators.
There Is a Fight for the “Soul” of American Soccer
One of the biggest movements implemented by current USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann, and even USWNT coach Pia Sundhage has been the push to bring a more attractive style of football to the U.S. teams.
On the women’s side, the U.S. has experimented with a variety of new formations and has attempted to emphasize a more possession-oriented style of play.
On the men’s side, Jurgen Klinsmann has done the same, and has been pushing all levels of the men’s program to implement his preferred 4-3-3.
Even in this summer’s lopsided defeat to Brazil, many fans took some brief solace in the fact that the team’s build-up play looked much improved.
Our Youth Movement Is the Best It Has Ever Been
While in the past, Americans going to play in Europe was a rare novelty, the pure number of Americans playing abroad now has become so expansive it is becoming nearly impossible for American fans to keep track of them.
What’s more is that American players, who for many years were looked down upon by many European managers, are now being given chances in dozens of leagues throughout the world. Scouts from around the world are coming to America to scout out our best young talent.
The Sport Continues to Grow by Leaps and Bounds
One of the biggest joys of being an American soccer fan over the past few decades has been the knowledge that you are part of a fairly exclusive club. You had knowledge of a sport that most Americans knew almost nothing about.
On the rare occasion when the conversation turned to soccer, all of your friends or family turned to you.
However, that is slowly beginning to change.
Ratings for this summer’s Euro were up again and I, for one, had dozens of conversations about the tournament with people I know are not even casual soccer fans who were tuning in to watch.
Youth participation numbers in the United States continue to rise and with a growing base of players to choose from, it is rational to assume the quality will improve as well.
Training in the United States continues to improve from a group of well-meaning parent-coaches just a decade or two ago, to professionally trained coaches, many of whom played the game at a fairly competitive level themselves.
Most Major League Soccer stadiums in the United States are now soccer-specific and many Americans who are not hardcore fans will tune in for big international tournaments, El Clasico and matches between the English Premier League’s “Big Four."
Twice in the last year (the U.S.-Brazil game in last summer’s Women’s World Cup and the Manchester City-QPR game on the last day of this year’s EPL season) I have even seen my father-in-law dragged into the excitement of a game I was watching and found him just as excited as me when a last-minute goal created an all-time great moment in footballing history.
While all of these may seem like small “baby steps” in the growth of soccer in America, they are important steps and will continue to help the United States become better and better as they strive to compete with the giants of the football world.
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