After losing to the Netherlands at the World Cup over the weekend, the United States men’s soccer players stayed on the field and were reluctant to leave the stage, echoing the sentiments of the home crowd that cheered on their young and exciting team.
Soccer and the United States have long had a strained relationship. But the talented, telegenic, multiracial Americans have given fans high hopes ahead of the 2026 World Cup being hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico. In Qatar, the United States showed they can play with more experienced and talented teams, stifling England, who scored freely in other games, to a 0-0 draw in their group stage.
With ruthless pace and finishing, the Dutch exposed Team USA’s tactical responsibilities, lack of scoring punch (they scored just three goals in the tournament) and some sloppy defending. But by 2026, the U.S. youth team will have matured and could go deeper into the playoffs. In the next four years, more players will join teammates such as Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, AC Milan’s Sergino Dast, Juventus’ Weston McKenney and Borussia Dortmund’s Gio Reina at the top of the club game.
The U.S. also has a leader: Tyler Adams, the 23-year-old captain, has become a World Cup star on and off the field, especially before the political game with Iran when he graciously answered reporters’ questions about race and geopolitics.
Team USA’s success will also raise a perennial question: Is soccer finally catching on in the United States? For all the fun of the past few weeks — many times packed with fans and President Joe Biden excitedly stepping to the microphone to announce the U.S. result — the team will probably be gone from most Americans’ lives by 2026. Often, the World Cup and the Olympic gold medal-winning U.S. women’s soccer team garner more attention than their male counterparts — though their paychecks are only just beginning to make up for it.
The idea of an untapped market of soon-to-be football fans has long been mooted by FIFA’s marketing teams, most notably during the 1994 World Cup, but has never been fully realised. There are many cultural and sporting reasons for this. First, US sports define the American calendar and create milestones for fans to grow up with. Soon after the New Year, it’s time for the Super Bowl. Then it’s March Madness on the college basketball courts. The promise of spring brings the opening day of the US Masters and baseball tournaments. When the leaves start to fall, the NFL and college and high school football begin. There is not much room for big sports anymore.
Major League Soccer has made strides, but it may never again tug at America’s heartstrings the way this annual event does. Many Americans have also resisted the allure of soccer, finding it boring and low-scoring. The game’s own arrogance in creating the impression that it wants to colonize the United States – evident in the media coverage when David Beckham joined the LA Galaxy in 2007 – is sometimes difficult in a country born to resist foreign influence. have been.
However, soccer is establishing a permanent cultural home here in the United States. In middle-class suburbs, many young kids now play the game, although the most talented athletes often prefer American football, baseball, basketball or ice hockey. (A soccer player like Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods could change that.) Just as many Americans now play in European leagues, coaches and managers also play major roles—as with Nottingham Forest and Leeds United in England. American investors currently own Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United.
US soccer fans are also increasingly sophisticated and glued to NBC’s Premier League coverage, which is worth more than $2 billion. Watching young Americans follow in the footsteps of pioneering US soccer players like Landon Donovan and Tim Howard overseas is now more appealing than the aging foreign stars who often spend their final days playing in MLS. Meanwhile, immigrant communities turn US cities into fan zones when their teams play. In a sign of football’s increasing accessibility and cultural acceptance, televisions showing major league games were readily available at Deep South college football parties this fall.
If America makes noise in the next World Cup, the place of this beautiful game will be established in the country’s sports scene. Now if they can find a striker to score the goals…