When you think of sport in the USA you automatically think American Football, basketball, baseball and possibly ice hockey – the four most established sports on the American sporting scene. So well established are these sports, that the current ‘March Madness’ basketball tournament between different universities brings in over $500m worth of TV revenue each year. Collegiate sports are a big thing in the USA and are supported as passionately as professional sports.
Football, the real version as opposed to the American style, is now slowly gaining interest among American sports fans. Many pundits and sports writers will tell you this is thanks to the “Beckham-factor” following his money spinning career at LA Galaxy. But official figures show the average MLS game attendance had increased from 13,756 in 2000 to 15,504 in 2006, the year before Beckham joined the Galaxy.
However, Beckham’s influence on the sport in the US cannot be overlooked, and his recent decision to renew his Galaxy contract must also be seen as a coup for the American game given the clubs he was being linked with. David Beckham is not the only household name in the footballing world to have gone stateside in recent years – Thierry Henry also moved from a Spanish giant to the MLS, joining the New York Red Bulls in 2010 from Barcelona.
So as the MLS goes from strength to strength what can we begin to expect from the US national team? Well I can confidently say they will not make the same mistake twice in their quest to be a footballing powerhouse. The mistake I am referring to is that of “Team America”, the US national team that was entered into the country’s now defunct North American Soccer League in 1983, with the hope of making the team more cohesive. The reality was a complete contrast to what had been the desired goal. Many players opted to continue playing for their current clubs as opposed to the national team within the same league and the side eventually finished bottom of the table, forcing its rather embarrassing withdrawal by the governing body.
So I do not expect to see a Team America part II entering the MLS anytime soon as the newest franchise, however I do feel the US national team will achieve its goal of becoming internationally more competitive through organic growth. The USA is a country of more than 300 million people and with more and more kids putting on the ‘soccer cleats’, eventually they will have a pretty sizeable talent pool to choose from.
American kids are now not only infatuated with Premier League stars such as Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie, but are also big followers of their own exports such as Clint Dempsey and the two-time Everton loanee Landon Donovan. As numbers of wannabe Dempseys and Donovans increase it becomes more and more likely that the USA will be able to field a side capable of competing with the Rooneys and the RVPs.
While the USA’s best finish in the World Cup remains the 3rd place achieved in the inaugural 1930 competition, they have managed to progress beyond the group stages in two of the three world cups since the turn of the century. After topping the group which contained England in 2010, the US team went out in the second round against surprise package Ghana. In 2002 they went all the way to the quarter finals, being defeated by eventual runners-up Germany, one of football’s true powerhouses which is nothing to be ashamed of. Especially when the scoreline was only 1-0.
This is undoubtedly steady progress following a 64 year run of failing to progress beyond the group stages that followed that inaugural World Cup. This run was ended when the USA hosted the tournament in 1994, and it seems that since then the only way has been up for the sport in the country.
I am a firm believer that the progress being made is going to continue for the US soccer team and fully expect them to better the third place of 1930 before the 100 year anniversary of the start of the World Cup. It’s a bold prediction but the USA is too big a nation to continue as a passive team in world football and will reach a final by 2030.
Winning a final is a completely different kettle of fish altogether, and the US team may find it needs the experience of more exports familiar with participating in Europe’s elite competitions to push them over the line and claim an historic World Cup title.