After last weekend’s World Cup loss to the Netherlands, the U.S. men’s soccer players lingered on the field, reluctant to leave the stage, mirroring the sentiments of the returning crowd who fell in love with their young, exciting team.
Soccer and the United States have long had an on-off relationship. But the talented, telegenic and multi-racial Americans left fans with high hopes ahead of the 2026 USA, Canada and Mexico Games. world football championship. In Qatar, the U.S. showed they can play with more experienced and talented teams by holding England, who had scored freely in their other games, to a 0-0 draw in their group stage match.
The Dutch, with their pace and ruthless finishing, exposed the US team’s tactical commitments, lack of scoring (only three goals in the tournament) and naïve defense. However, by 2026 a youthful USA team will mature and be able to go deeper into the playoffs. Four years on, more players will join the likes of Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, AC Milan’s Sergino Desto, Juventus’ Weston McKennie and Borussia Dortmund’s Gio Reyna at the top of the club game.
The U.S. also has a leader: 23-year-old captain Tyler Adams has emerged as a World Cup star on and off the field, especially ahead of a politically charged game against Iran when he graciously deflected reporters’ questions about race and geopolitics.
Team USA’s success will also revive the eternal question: Will soccer finally take off in the United States? For all the fun of the past few weeks — with bars full of fans and President Joe Biden jumping excitedly to the microphone to announce the U.S. score — this team will probably disappear from most Americans’ lives by 2026. Often the World Cup. and the Olympic gold medal-winning U.S. women’s soccer team gets more attention than their male counterparts — even though their paychecks are just beginning to catch up.
The idea of an untapped market of soon-to-be football fans has long been appealing to FIFA’s marketing teams, particularly during the 1994 FIFA World Cup. States World Championship, but it was never fully implemented. There are many cultural and sporting reasons for this. First, US sports define the American calendar and create milestones that fans can grow with. Shortly after New Year’s, it’s time for the Super Bowl. Then it’s March Madness on college basketball courts. The promise of spring brings the US Masters and baseball’s Opening Day. As the leaves begin to fall, the NFL and college and high school football begin. There is not much room for another big sport.
Major League Soccer is moving forward, but it may never tug at America’s heartstrings like this other annual rite of passage. Many Americans also resisted the glamor of soccer, seeing it as boring and low-scoring. The flair of the game itself, giving the impression of colonizing the US, is evident from the media coverage of David Beckham joining LA Galaxy in 2007. – sometimes hardly fit in a nation born to resist foreign influence.
Still, soccer creates a permanent cultural home here in the United States. Middle-class suburbs currently have many young kids playing, although the most talented athletes often prefer American football, baseball, basketball or hockey. (Footballer Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods could change that.) With many Americans now playing in European leagues, coaches and managers are also in leadership roles — for example, Nottingham Forest and Leeds United in England. US investors already own Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United.
U.S. soccer fans are also becoming increasingly sophisticated, tying to NBC’s Premier League coverage, which is reportedly worth more than $2 billion. Watching young Americans follow in the footsteps of trailblazing US players like Landon Donovan and Tim Howard overseas is now more surprising than the aging foreign stars who often falter in their final days in MLS. Meanwhile, immigrant communities turn US cities into fan zones when their home teams play. In one sign of soccer’s growing reach and cultural acceptance, televisions showing Premier League games were easily spotted at Deep South college soccer tailgate parties this fall.
The beautiful game’s place on the nation’s sporting scene could be cemented if the U.S. makes noise at the next World Cup. Now if they can just find a striker to score goals…