Cracking the US market is one of football’s greatest obstacles. However the current USA team are young, exciting and have brought forward the soccer revolution.
Football (or rather soccer) has held an elusive grip on the USA. Despite its global appeal, the soccer craze is yet to finds its way onto the North American continent.
The MLS, and its’ previous incarnations as the US’ top league, have never been deemed strong enough to compete globally. If the USA were to truly adopt the sport, it would have to be demonstrated by a growth in the strength of its league.
Sure enough, the quality has risen in recent decades. The likes of Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney have all played on US shores in the last five years. This of course has led to the league being held in the same light as China and as Russia; that of a retirement home for stars claiming a pay cheque.
Whilst the credentials of the MLS are often questioned, the quality of talent playing for the national team can no longer be doubted. This raft of young, exciting player from the US are now being seen across Europe’s top five leagues. Together on an international stage, they could be capable of something truly special.
First Hand Experience
Roberto Rojas is a multimedia journalist for beIN Sports USA. Born to Paraguayan parents, Roberto had a passion for soccer instilled in him from a young age.
“I grew up with a passion for soccer. Having that dual nationality I have always taken an interest in both the Paraguay national team and the USMNT”
“Perhaps having that Paraguayan side to my identity game me an advantage in my appreciation of soccer. Part of the growing success and influence of soccer in the USA is down to the large diversity of its population. Especially the Hispanic and South American populations, that really carry the love of soccer within the country.”
The continued spread and growth of the game in the USA is testament to this support, and the arrival of a global megastar thirteen years ago.
The David Beckham Effect
If we are to assess the rise of soccer in the USA, there is one moment that leaps out. One might have thought hosting the 1994 World Cup would mark an awakening. However it would be a marquee arrival thirteen years later that would spark interests in the game in the USA.
David Beckham signed for LA Galaxy in 2007. Moving from Real Madrid, Beckham’s arrival created an international publicity storm. There were those that doubted the intentions behind the move. Many questioned whether money was a motivator, and the unique clause in his contract that allowed Beckham to purchase a franchise of his own. Was this part of the Beckham publicity machine.
In his five years in LA however, he helped Galaxy to two MLS Cups, both coming in his last two years at the club. As ever with Beckham, his is an image and name that brings enormous cultural influence.
It is estimated that average attendances across the entire league rose by five thousand in the decade following his arrival. Similarly the overall roster size across the MLS increased from 215 in 2007 to over 600 a decade later (according to Reuters.com).
This not only reflects an dramatic increase in supporter uptake. It also shows that America’s youth were swept up in the Beckham effect. It is possible that the current generation of talented US national players are among the 250,000 that bought ‘Beckham 23’ shirts back in 2007.
“The fact that Beckham was still only thirty-one changed the perception of the MLS being a retirement home for European players. His impact in that respect cannot be underestimated” says Roberto, who like many had a white and blue clad Beckham poster on their bedroom wall.
If Beckham was the international star to sweep through the country, Christian Pulisic is the US star sweeping internationally.
The twenty-two year old, dubbed ‘Captain America’, has been the country’s brightest talent ever since joining the Borussia Dortmund academy at sixteen. Now he is reaching heights in the Premier League that few Americans have.
The Chelsea winger has already taken to life in England, showing impressive finishing and a dribbling ability to match that of the departed Eden Hazard. Pulisic has even assumed the great Belgian’s number ten shirt at Stamford Bridge.
US greats of the past such as Brian McBride, Landon Donovan and even Clint Dempsey, have all been held within the context of their nationality.
Where they might have impressed in Europe for top sides, none have truly electrified Europe, and made themselves a star of the league.
“For me it is definitely too early to compare Pulisic to those greats. He is definitely the player of greatest potential the country has seen, but to burden a player so young with that responsibility would be unfair.” says Roberto.
Pulisic looked capable of doing so at Dortmund. He already seems to be making headway in England as part of Chelsea’s expensive attack on the Premier League.
Pulisic is undoubtedly the national team’s shining light. Around him are a core of equally young players also playing across Europe; and to great effect.
Tyler Adams is a product of two of modern football’s great rising powers. He has risen through the Red Bull talent factory and now is a starting midfielder in their excellent young team. Adams has a wide range of passing and is efficient in tight offensive areas, whilst being lively and astute in defence. At twenty-one he too is only going to develop further into a fine midfielder.
Weston McKennie is another young talent, albeit his transfer to Juventus has shocked many. Just a year older than Adams it is likely they will man the central midfield positions for many years internationally. Whether he plays regularly in Turin is yet to be seen, but it marks a substantial move for a player of any nationality let alone another foreign playing US national.
Younger still than Pulisic, Adams and McKennie are two others.
Sergiño Dest is the side’s flying right back. He has impressed in his fledgling career at Ajax, another historic hub for fine talent. The nineteen year old featured in all but five league games last season and recorded an impressive four assists. One imagines this bright young full-back will soon be joining a top five league.
The final name on this list is Giovanni Reyna. The son of 112 capped Claudio, Reyna’s name is the youngest on this already youthful list. In February 2020, he appeared for his club Borussia Dortmund in their last sixteen tie against PSG in the Champions League. This made him the third youngest player to appear in the competition’s history, topping it off with an assist.
“It is only a good thing that young American players are following in the steps of Pulisic, Adams and McKennie. You could plausibly see a scenario where the top European sides each have a US national in their team.”
Raising the Stakes
“Soccer has a long way to go to make it into the public mainstream. To the same extent the likes of baseball and basketball have anyway. The sport is decades of development behind its competitors.” Roberto is also quick to calm the expectations of the side, even within its own continent.
“We also have to remember that Mexico is by far the biggest team on the continent. Before anyone starts thinking about potential international success, the USA firstly has to reach Mexico’s level.”
This group of players are incredibly young, and have yet to truly test themselves on an international stage. However the potential is great. Should they establish themselves as regular World Cup qualifiers, and continue their European development, the USA could well become the best side in the CONCACAF.
“Gaining that international respectability is definitely the first step. Also let us not forget the impact of the women’s national team in dominating their sport. “
Whether the men’s side can establish such a dominance is unlikely in this generation. However, for a side so young and talented, this is a unit the country can get behind and truly attach themselves to.
“In the USA it is seen as a rich kids sport. This is a perception that needs to change, especially for a sport that is so simple to play. I feel this would go a long way to advancing it into the mainstream.”
With Pulisic and co. as its’ trailblazers, soccer is moving further into the USA public consciousness. The next step is to thrive in international waters.
Thank you to Roberto for his insight and expertise, he is a brilliant young journalist at beIN Sports USA. You can find him on Twitter at ‘@RobertoRojas97’