It’s not over for U.S. soccer
BY SERGEI KLEBNIKOV | While watching England lose to Uruguay — an early result that ended England’s World Cup hopes — a frustrated fan at a pub just north of the East Village made a bet that the U.S. would win the World Cup before England would again. Although it sounds like a long stretch, especially since the English have won a World Cup before (in 1966) and practically invented the sport, this wager may become reality in future years.
The U.S. National Team’s round of 16 loss to Belgium on July 1 saw the U.S. bow out of the World Cup again, at the same stage of the tournament as they did four years ago. Harsh critics might say that the team hardly gained ground since last World Cup, and point to the familiar feeling of losing in the first knockout round.
In a Facebook post, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann admitted that losing in the round of 16 meant that there was “a lot of hard work still ahead” for the team. After the charismatic German-born Klinsmann won the respect of U.S. fans this summer, most of his pundits have agreed that he is still the right man to lead the team. But the fact remains that out of four games in Brazil, the U.S. only won one game — in addition to drawing one and losing two others.
However, this year’s World Cup has given fans a glimpse of the future — of what U.S. soccer has the potential to be.
At the summer’s start, the National Team was faced with the prospect of surviving the “Group of Death” — with opposing teams Ghana, Portugal and Germany. In their first game, the U.S. defeated Ghana 2-1 — the opponents who knocked them out in the last tournament — and racked up a surprising amount of TV viewers. High viewership numbers continued as the U.S. pulled off an upset and advanced out of the Group of Death on goal differential with a 2-2 tie against Portugal and 1-0 loss to Germany, both good results considering the quality of those teams.
The 2-1 loss to Belgium, which devastated fans all over the country, was the second-most watched World Cup game, with 16.5 million U.S. viewers watching on ESPN, according to ratings data from Nielsen Media Research. The game was only eclipsed by the U.S. team’s 2-2 tie with Portugal on June 22, which averaged 18.2 million viewers on a Sunday. However, data focuses on homes rather than outdoor venues, restaurants and bars, so actual numbers are reportedly even higher.
Such high viewership for soccer games is usually unheard of in the U.S., and these numbers are a testament to the sport’s growth in our country.
“The game has definitely become more acceptable in the U.S.,” said Andy Scruton, chairperson of the board of the Downtown United Soccer Club youth league.
Over all, the U.S. team’s technical performance on the field was less than stellar, according to some pundits. In the World Cup, the team was deficient in passing and lacked individual talent in the attacking end. A team without these qualities simply is not a formula for success. Yet the U.S. displayed an ultimately passionate and resolute performance. The team was very organized, and good defensively with outstanding goalkeeping from Tim Howard.
Howard put in a more-than-spirited performance against Belgium, holding back their repeated onslaughts before the U.S. was finally eliminated in extra time. Howard’s 16 saves throughout the match is the highest number made by any goalkeeper in a World Cup match since 1966.
A day after the match, President Obama made an Oval Office phone call to Howard and team captain Clint Dempsey, praising their leadership and the team’s performance. He commended the National Team for “making their country proud” in the World Cup in Brazil.
The U.S. will need to continue moving forward by developing our domestic league (M.L.S.) and by creating a better youth system across the country.
“Youth development has to focus on the fact that soccer is different from all other U.S. sports,” said Scruton, who is involved with running DUSC’s prestigious youth soccer camp.
In several World Cups from now, America will undoubtedly be a big competitor, but there is a long road ahead until this becomes reality. It was a performance that “excited the nation,” as Scruton put it, yet far from the finished product.
Could this World Cup be a turning point for U.S. soccer? According to Reuters, the U.S. is reportedly planning a bid to host the 2026 World Cup (with Mexico as a co-host). If this proves successful, the next 12 years may be just enough time for the U.S. to fully develop future stars, and 2026 the perfect time for us to conquer our final sporting frontier and win the World Cup.