While the United States fancies itself as the premier nation in terms of global accomplishments—scientific, cultural, or sports-related—there is one category where the U.S. clearly lags well behind the rest of the world:
The sport of soccer.
There are many reasons for the United States’ apathy toward the sport. The main reasons is the United States’ belief in adopting the best customs from other cultures and then stripping down and repackaging those customs as something more “American.”
Cricket is one of the world’s most popular sports. Americans reformatted it as baseball. Soccer is the premier pastime in nearly every other country on the globe. Main components of the game were tweaked and altered into the sports today known as Basketball and American Football.
It isn’t that Americans don’t care about global traditions. It’s just American culture to take international customs and make them more “American.” Since the United States has basketball and American football, U.S. soccer is destined to be a lesser-tiered sport with less interest by fans to watch the sport, corporations and entrepreneurs to market and finance the sport, and most importantly, young athletes to take interest in the sport.
Other reasons include the marketability of the other major American sports. Baseball is timeless and branded as "American" as hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet.
American football has become less a sport, and more a ritual in the United States. Every Saturday or Sunday (often times both), fans of college and professional football gather around inside stadiums, outside stadiums, in bars, and living rooms to watch games. Parties are thrown on game days, and even people with little interest in the sport support the fans in their lives by assisting with the parties, the tailgating, the camaraderie.
While basketball doesn’t have the rituality or the time-honored history of baseball and football, the sheer athleticism of its best superstars and the simplicity of the game to understand and play make it easy to attract fans and athletes.
Because these three major sports have such an oligopoly on American fan interest, other lesser team sports are choked off from the nation’s attention span like small weeds.
This fact prevents many young talented American athletes from developing not just the love, but the obsession with soccer that fosters steady continuous improvement. As a result, the majority of hyper-athletic American athletes are drawn into basketball, football, and sometimes baseball and tennis, with almost none going into American soccer.
And even though American soccer has a number of talented of athletes, because of America’s apathy towards the sport, it is hard for American soccer stars to develop the mentality where every single play is critically important and deserves extraordinary efforts that soccer stars from around the world face routinely.
The United States easily has enough athletes to become a world power if its top-flight athletes took up soccer instead of other, more prestigious sports.
The majority of guards and forwards in the NBA, skill position players in the NFL, and middle infielders and centerfielders in the NBA all have the required speed and athleticism necessary to excel in soccer. Most of those basketball and football players also have the intense conditioning and physical strength that is also required.
If those athletes developed feet-eye coordination and were taught to love soccer at a young age, then the U.S. would be a world power in soccer. Instead, those athletes are choosing to play more prestigious sports.
And why not? The average baseball player earns over $3 million a year, the average basketball player over $5 million, and the average American football player earns $770,000.
Salaries are somewhat skewed in football because football employs a lot more athletes per team than basketball and baseball.
Still, compared to the $40,000 average salary for MLS soccer players, it’s easy to figure out that basketball, baseball, and American football are where the big bucks are at, and that isn’t even including massive endorsements for top basketball, baseball, and football athletes.
Unfortunately, while the United States certainly has the capability to be a moderately successful international power, the elite athletes needed to become a superpower simply don’t look at soccer as an interesting career path.
Without those athletes, US soccer is stuck oscillating between above average (Top 8 in 2002 World Cup), and below (0 points in 1998 World Cup), with little hope of coming anywhere close to consistent international domination.