The United States of America and dominance are synonymous when discussing international basketball. When it comes to soccer, however, the U.S. is nothing but an afterthought.
Ever since the 2016 Copa America, the United States Men’s National Soccer Team has been on a downward spiral. Now-former coach Jurgen Klinsmann finally left, with coach Bruce Arena being called upon once more to lead the Americans back to glory. Arena’s approach has created mixed results, with aging star Clint Dempsey often not even playing. At times the defense is in shambles and the lone bright spot seems to be Borussia Dortmund wonder kid Christian Pulisic, who turned down the chance to play for the Croatian national team in order to play for his home country. Interestingly enough, many of the problems that existed under Klinsmann still plague the team, yet Arena has faced virtually no criticism.
Currently, the United States is in third place in its World Cup qualifying group, behind the already-qualified Mexico and second-place Costa Rica, which has a crucial six point lead over the United States. There is one spot for direct qualification and another playoff spot that would require playing a team from Asia.
Unfortunately for the United States, the team just drew against Honduras, which is also vying for the coveted third place playoff spot. The USMNT’s “Road to Russia” has been a full-blown disaster thus far, with the very real possibility that no obnoxious “USA” chants will be heard next year.
Given that the United States is situated in a relatively easy qualifying group — where Mexico is the only other real competition — it is almost unfathomable that the Americans are not dominating, especially when they do so in so many other sports.
America has never been able to live up to its potential for glory in soccer and the reason for that is simple: Our best athletes often quit soccer to focus on the more popular sports like American football, basketball and even baseball.
This results in our other sports teams being phenomenal, of course, while limiting the potential of world’s biggest sport in the U.S. It is rather ironic then that the United States is preparing a joint bid with its fellow North American countries to host the World Cup in 2026, considering that soccer is the county’s least popular “major” sport.
Consider how talented the national soccer team would be if athletes like Lebron James — who is coincidentally a minority stake owner in Liverpool FC — had decided to practice his free kicks instead of his jump shot. Or if Patrick Kane, one of the best American NHL hockey players, had decided that chasing a ball around cones was more enthralling than skating drills.
These examples lead us to the broader, more burning question: What will it take for the US to improve and elevate its soccer program?
Craige: The U.S. simply does not have the extensive youth academy system that countries like Germany and England have had in place for years. Furthermore, the MLS is a joke and does not give American players a real chance to compete against other highly skilled players. It will take an overhaul of the entire soccer system, with an eye towards basing it off of the English system, for the US to even begin to be a truly good team. The attitude towards soccer in the U.S. is definitely improving but it is still nowhere near the mania that you would see in almost any other country.
Santamaria: The quick-fix solution is rather obvious: Win. Seeing American fans unite across town centers and restaurants in 2010, and even more so in 2014, gave many Americans hope for the future of soccer in their country. If the U.S. can miraculously fashion a run to the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup — should we qualify — the results would electrify the US. While it may seem a long shot and a pipe dream for now, in the beautiful game, anything can happen.
Vanessa Craige and Paolo Santamaria are seniors in the School of Foreign Service and the College. Nothing but Net appears every Friday.