Soccer may just be the next big thing in the United States. You would hardly know it, based on limited media coverage, but United States Soccer arguably just had the best four-week stretch in its history.
The ball got rolling with the fall of FIFA, soccer’s governing body. In the past month, 14 of FIFA’s highest executives have been indicted for charges involving bribery and kickbacks, and Sepp Blatter, the president of the corrupt federation, has resigned his position. The United States and the Federal Bureau of Investigation played instrumental roles in the crackdown, as all 14 people indicted were extradited to the United States.
The momentum must have carried over to the soccer field. First, the makeshift United States Under-23 side, missing numerous players who had obligations to their Major League Soccer teams, went to France to compete in the famous Toulon Tournament in preparation for its upcoming Olympic Qualifiers. Few had expectations for the team, which was headlined by Julian Green, who scored a stunning goal in extra time during the United States’ World Cup loss to Belgium, and Stanford star Jordan Morris, but the team managed a third place finish. The U.S.A. squad defeated talented sides from the Netherlands, England and Qatar on its way to its best finish in the tournament since 1989.
Furthermore, the United States Under-20 team traveled to New Zealand for the U-20 World Cup this month. Expectations were high as soccer pundits declared the team the best youth squad in United States history prior to the tournament. The team consisted of numerous highly touted prospects including Rubio Rubin and Emerson Hyndman, both already capped by the full USA Men’s National Team, attacking midfielder Gedion Zelalem of Arsenal’s touted youth program, 17-year-old Cameron Carter Vickers, considered to be one of the finer center back prospects in soccer and goalkeeper Zack Steffen, formerly of the University of Maryland and now of SC Freiburg in Germany.
That group didn’t underwhelm either as they beat Myanmar, New Zealand and a highly touted Colombia team to reach the quarterfinals, where they were on the wrong side of a close outcome that was decided by penalty kicks. The performance has raised expectations for the future of United States soccer, and the core of the U-20 team is expected to join the U-23 team to aid in Olympic qualification.
The full United States Men’s National Team impressed even more. The team played two friendlies against the Netherlands, ranked sixth in the world, and Germany, ranked first, in preparation for the upcoming Gold Cup in July. The games were held in Amsterdam and Cologne, so a positive result was not forecasted by most soccer experts. Remarkably, the United States not only won one game, but both, beating the Netherlands 4-3 and Germany 2-1. Striker Bobby Wood came on as a late substitute in both games and managed to score the game-winning goal in the last five minutes on each occasion. The biggest positive of the two-game stretch had to be the play of captain Michael Bradley, who was named Man of the Match in both games as he broke out of his World Cup slump.
The Gold Cup now awaits the U.S.A. team, and the players certainly have their eyes on the trophy. Since they took 1st at the tournament in 2013, an additional first place finish for the U.S. would earn them a place in the 2017 Confederations Cup. In 2009, The U.S. had great success at the tournament, beating Spain, which was then ranked No. 1 in the world. Similar success will be the goal for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
The stock of U.S. soccer is at an all time high. The past month has provided fans with hope for the future and a newfound energy in the national team. Look for the United States to contend for the Gold Cup championship, and keep an eye out for the women’s side, eyeing its third World Cup title this year in Canada.
Jake Foote is a rising sophomore in the College. The Hot Stove appears every Thursday.