American soccer culture needs to exist beyond a World Cup cycle


Siobhan Nolan, Staff

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been counting the days until September. After what happened in 2017, this redemption arc is a long time coming. Such a plethora of young talent will surely propel us further in this competition than we’ve gone in recent memory.

I’m, of course, talking about the upcoming qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup. The United States men’s national team didn’t qualify for the 2018 World Cup after a disastrous and heartbreaking loss to Trinidad & Tobago in 2017. At least, it was heartbreaking for American soccer fans — of which there are not as many as there should be.

When I say American soccer fans, I don’t mean people that are aware that the United States has a national team, could name a couple of players (bonus points if they can name players other than Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey!), and will don something red, white and blue when the U.S. does appear in a World Cup. I mean genuine fans that follow the national team year-round, keep up with the American youngsters currently dominating Europe and are desperately trying to turn the United States into a legitimate soccer nation.

Soccer is the world’s sport. In many countries, it’s essentially the national religion. You have your club team and your national team, and those are the teams that you would die for. In a large majority of the world, the population eats, sleeps and breathes soccer.

So why is such an influential country like the United States so different?

It’s a strange situation. About 3 million American kids play soccer — which is the most of any country in the entire world. The United States (specifically MLS youth programs) is producing some of the most promising young talent in soccer right now — Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Gio Reyna, Tyler Adams, Brenden Aaronson, etc. etc. The United States women’s national team is the best women’s soccer team in the world. Yet, Americans are more interested in watching football, basketball, baseball and hockey. If you’re even aware that your city has an MLS team (go Union!), you probably don’t follow them closely. The USMNT becomes a source of national pride every four years. It’s inconsistent, frustrating and frankly quite confusing.

Francisco Seco/Associated Press

The U.S. women’s soccer team won the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Kids in Europe and South America are kicking soccer balls the minute they can walk. They take training seriously, and will willingly move away from their home countries at as young as 14 years old in order to pursue a prosperous career in the sport. Their countries take immense pride in their national teams, and the unity that comes from a winning team is unmatched. Soccer is a sport that truly brings all kinds of people together, and is a true joy to watch. The creativity, the passion, the devotion that exists in soccer is life-changing. It’s something immeasurably beautiful that everyone should experience at some point in their lives. It’s not something I can fully and accurately articulate, but once you feel it, you want everyone else to experience it too. It really is that amazing.

So I challenge you, in preparation for the 2022 World Cup, learn more about your national team. Learn their names, their strengths, their weaknesses, their backstories. Watch the World Cup qualifiers, let yourself get sucked into the heat of the game and relish in the thrill of having your team qualify for the most coveted trophy in the game. Root for them when 2022 rolls around, and let yourself be devastated if they lose or overcome with joy if they win the whole thing. Allow yourself to fall totally and completely into the beautiful game.

It’s a lot more exhilarating than the Super Bowl, I promise.

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