Halftime Sports

Pinch Me, I’m Dreaming: The Future of the USMNT

October 15, 2015

The Florida Times Union

The United States Men’s Soccer Team will win a World Cup in the next 20 years.

Am I crazy? Probably. Will this happen? Probably not. But, it wouldn’t surprise me if it did. I mean, if Alexi Lalas thinks the United States team that got slaughtered 4-1 by Brazil, barely beat Peru, and lost to Mexico is world class, then the future should be bright!

Well, Lalas is an idiot, because the current team sucks, but the future is still bright! Even though my initial sentence is fairly farfetched, I fully expect the United States to at least be able to compete with the world class first-teams of South America and Europe in 20 years.

In America, pretty much every sport is currently world class except for men’s soccer. Football is unique to the United States; the NFL is overwhelmingly the most talented and popular football league worldwide. The MLB is challenged in popularity probably only by Japanese leagues, but there’s a reason you see Japanese players coming here to play. It’s better here. The NBA and WNBA are world class; there are European basketball leagues, but the United States dominated the last Olympic tournament, and undoubtedly boasts the most competitive leagues. Even the NHL attracts top players from all over the world: Russians, Canadians, etc. Then, you have college sports: universities attracting 110,000 football fans per game, and the NCAA basketball tournaments being as popular as they are. Women’s soccer is certainly world class as well after winning the 2015 World Cup.

In Europe, what is there? Soccer… maybe some European basketball leagues, tennis, and rugby, depending on the country. But, soccer trumps all of those in terms of popularity. Everyone follows soccer, everyone watches soccer. Every young kid wants to play soccer.

In the U.S., there are so many popular sports that soccer is put on the backburner, and the athletically talented kids have about seven different sports to choose from. Once they become teenagers, many athletes will pick the stuff that’s popular with the American mass, football, basketball, or baseball. Not soccer. They see their family and friends watching football, basketball, or baseball, and choose to play those sports.

The Americans who do pursue professional futures in soccer do it in the “American” way: dominate high school, get a college scholarship, go to college, and then get drafted to Major League Soccer. The MLS, the professional United States soccer league, is one of the only well-known soccer leagues that holds a draft for college students to enter. Once MLS players begin their professional careers in their early 20s after being drafted, they still have to learn the tricks of the trade on how to translate their game to the professional level. This “American” approach of attending college and then joining the pros at around age 21 works in football and sometimes baseball and basketball. But, it doesn’t work in soccer. It explains why the United States’ starting lineup in a direly important match versus Mexico on October 10th contained only two players under the age of 26; American players reach their prime much later than in other countries because of the way many of them are brought up through college. At that point, it’s too late for them to develop their skills much further, because their athleticism is already beginning to diminish due to older age.

In Europe, the cream of the crop soccer players join professional youth academies during their teenage years. They finish high school classes and improve their soccer skills through these boarding-school like academies, which are sponsored by professional clubs. They’re exposed to very impressive coaches and compete against other child prodigies who are involved in the academies of other clubs. This way, by the time players reach their early 20’s, they’re already prepared for meaningful senior team club caps and senior national team caps, whereas in the U.S., these players are just beginning their pro careers.

These are the differences between Europe and the U.S. in terms of cultivating soccer talent. The sport is overall more popular and has more interest in Europe, and they develop talent using academies rather than through college and drafts, which clearly works better.

With that being said, the United States is on its way to becoming more European-like in soccer. The sport has gained unbelievable popularity here over the past few years, and America has begun to overhaul its soccer talent evaluation system. United States Men’s National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann has made huge strides in growing the national team’s youth system, and MLS academies are becoming more advanced and appealing compared to the college route.

The USMNT’s 2014 World Cup Group Stage game against Portugal was one of the most watched soccer matches ever in the United States, with 24.7 million viewers. Then, the United States Women’s National Soccer team won the World Cup in 2015, with the final match drawing 26.7 million viewers, shattering the previous record. Both World Cup runs, men’s and women’s, undoubtedly increased soccer’s popularity at home, hopefully piquing children’s interest in the game and motivating them to take up soccer rather than other sports. A combination of the sport’s growing popularity and the emergence of suitable academy systems should lead to future success and more American talent reaching its full potential. It won’t be an immediate impact; this will take time. But, the seeds are planted for the U.S. to be a future power in the sport.

I can see it now: the United States wins its first ever World Cup title in 2026, at a competition hosted in our beloved home country, during the 250year anniversary of American independence, nonetheless. Well, first we would have to actually win rights to host the tournament, and that’s the easy part. On-field talent must develop enough to field a world-class team, which will hopefully be the case, assisted by the sport’s popularity and the success of MLS academies. Sure, I might be dreaming, as this is probably an unlikely scenario. But, maybe not! Get back to me in 20 years.

Nick Gavio
Nick is the Voice's former editorial board chair. Follow him on Twitter at @nickgavio, where he primarily retweets cute puppy videos.


Read More

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Mike Glenn

Great article!


It will never happen, and what is soccer? You mean football? Also football (soccer) is not the only sport In Europe, there is rugby, volleyball, hockey and baseball to name just a few, the US sucks at all of those sports except for basketball, Europe has been and always will be better then the United States, get over it!


Basketball* not baseball.


I didn’t claim soccer was the “only” sport in Europe. I clearly said that it is the most popular, without a doubt, and that’s fairly indisputable. You can’t tell me that hockey, volleyball, and basketball are more popular than soccer in Europe. However, here are some recent U.S. Olympic results for you:

Men’s Ice Hockey: 2nd place 2010, 4th place 2014
Women’s Ice hockey: 2nd place 2010, 2nd place 2014
Men’s team volleyball: 1st place 2008, 5th place 2012
Men’s beach volleyball: 1st place 2008
Women’s team volleyball: 2nd place 2008, 2nd place 2012
Women’s beach volleyball: 1st place 2008, 1st AND 2nd place 2012

Hm, so does the U.S. suck at all of those sports? You tell me.


And I never said that they were more popular than real football in Europe, but you implied that real football was the only sport Europeans play, American football (NFL) is by far the most popular sport in the US, is it the only sport Americans play? No.

Those results are fine and dandy, but if you look up the average results you’ll see that outside of basketball the US isn’t really good in those sports, the US hockey team is decent but they can’t compete with Canada, Russia and the Czech Republic.

Honestly I’m from Canada, and I’ve been to the US quite a few times, truth be told I don’t like your Country very much at all, and as far as I know neither do my fellow Countrymen, your Cities all look the same, pollution is everywhere, crime is high, mass shootings happen every few months, the people are (I find) rude, ignorant and uneducated, you guys make crappie cars, your military is always attacking small helpless Countries and destabilizing entire regions for your own gain.

For all of that, I really don’t see how you guys deserve to win a World Cup in the Worlds most popular Sport.