Why is the US not stronger as a global soccer power?
Understanding the Global Soccer Paradigm
I've been around the block a few times, observed the beautiful game for as long as I can recount. The sport that transcends boundaries, cultures, and languages have had a peculiar relationship with a country as robust as The United States. Astonishingly, the US, which showcases brilliant abilities in many other sports, has not echoed the same performance on the soccer field. Over a cup of hot brew and a cheese sandwich, I have had countless discussions about this with my mates. Why isn’t the US a stronger global soccer power? Allow me to indulge you with my thoughts.
Soccer VS Traditional American Sports
Let's kick things off here. Having grown up in Australia, where cricket is a religion and Rugby is the holy book, I understand the impact of traditionally celebrated sports. Now, if we look at the American sports scene, we see a clear preference for sports such as American Football, Baseball, and Basketball. The magnificence of the NFL Super Bowl is globally recognized. The enthralling NBA Championships have had us biting our nails more times than we can remember. Now, take soccer into this already crowded space and you can see why it might be struggling to get the attention it needs.
Quality and Accessibility of Youth Soccer
As with any sport, passion starts young. Pele didn't start playing when he had his first grey hair, did he? Looking at the youth scenes in other soccer-stronghold countries, one immediately perceives an inherent difference. In countries like Brazil or England, children start their football journey in local academies and local clubs. In contrast, the US's emphasis on school and college sports, has somewhat diluted the focus on grassroot academies. Pardon me for saying so, but high school matches are hardly a competitive breeding ground for upcoming talent.
Investment in Soccer Infrastructure and Development
If you've gone out and bought a piece of land, you know success is reliant on how well you cultivate it. It's no different with sports structure. The investment in soccer facilities, soccer-specific stadiums, academies, and quality coaches ensures the continuous churn of world-class players. Unfortunately, the US has traditionally invested more heavily in the big three – Football, Baseball, and Basketball. I mean, wouldn't you feel sidelined if your sibling was getting all the chocolate puddings?
Competitive Leagues and Player Development
Nothing matures a player more than match experience at a highly competitive level. Though MLS has come a long way since its inception, it hasn't achieved the tier of competitiveness seen in leagues like English Premier League or La Liga. Think about it, would you improve more by solving elementary math problems or by delving into complex calculus? The limited scope of MLS has resulted in the US breeding fewer players capable of matching against the world's top league players.
Appreciation and Perception
Soccer is enjoyed by millions worldwide, but somehow, in the US, it's still perceived as less 'American' as compared to other sports. When I was in college, I weaseled my way into the university soccer team, and I remember the jokes about it being a 'second tier' sport. The fact that it was primarily a sport that I, a foreign student, was interested in, led to further stereotyping. It's comical, really. This unconscious bias does impact the popularity and development of the sport, pushing it further from the forefront.
Harmonizing US Influence in Global Soccer
Change, as they say, starts small. The US can make headway in global soccer, one step at a time. Attention towards grassroots leagues, an increase in quality infrastructure, and lighting the fire of passion among young American soccer fans are just some of the steps to take. It's probably as difficult as me switching from drinking coffee to tea, but it's not impossible. Perhaps someday we'll see a superstar draped in the Star-Spangled Banner lifting the World Cup. Wouldn't that be something?
As I dwell on this topic with my Sydney view, let's not forget soccer's unconstrained ability to bring people together. It sees beyond geographical, racial, societal, and economic boundaries. And I believe with time, the US will embrace this beautiful sport just as passionately as the rest of the world has. So, let's enjoy the game, let it be your escape, your joy, your passion. To soccer!