When will the US win a World Cup? It depends on our sophomores.

If the US wants to compete on an international level, it needs to step up its program

Mr. Pinto, Math teacher

Soccer is and always will be the world’s game.  Almost every country in the world has at least one professional league and the popularity of the game has grown exponentially as television and video communication has improved and expanded.  In many parts of the world, it is truly a religion.  You may think you love the Eagles and are a huge fan, but most likely you are just scratching the surface of the dedication and passion that other people in other countries have for their soccer teams. 

This love explodes into mania when it’s World Cup time, because then, fans don’t just cheer and support their local city, they adorn the jersey of their nation.  The World Cup takes place every four years and is a tournament of 32 countries, all of which have to qualify before entering the event.    Even though “We’re America and America is the best,” we have never won a World Cup, and it doesn’t look very likely like we ever will.  But why? 

Let’s go back to 2002 for the World Cup held in Korea and Japan.  The US Men’s National Team had a breakout tournament advancing the furthest they had ever reached, making it all the way to the Quarter Finals only to lose 1 – 0 to Germany who finished second.  This was an amazing achievement that sparked a huge growth in soccer in America and a true rise and belief in the possibility that one day, the US could hoist the treasured World Cup Trophy. 

In 2010 and 2014 America got knocked out in the Round of 16 which was disappointing, but showed their established consistency as a potential tournament contender.  So, the US Men’s National team was trending upward, they were finding more and more success as money and popularity began flooding into the program.  This should have translated into prosperity and success. 

However, in 2018 we didn’t even qualify for the tournament.  How can a powerful nation of 328 million people not be able to put together a roster of 23 men to beat nations like Costa Rica, population five million, and Panama, population 4.25 million?  The answer: we’re playing a different game and we can’t compete with the way the rest of the world sees, plays and sacrifices in their commitment to soccer unless we adapt to their formula.    

We’re playing a different game and we can’t compete with the way the rest of the world sees, plays and sacrifices in their commitment to soccer unless we adapt to their formula.”

Let’s dive in a little further. Every other country filters the money that soccer brings in from their professional team down into their youth teams.  So big clubs with all the television, apparel and advertising money not only use that money to pay their professional players, but some of that money is spent paying and developing their youth teams as well.  That’s right, there are eight year olds getting paid to play this game in almost every country other than America.  This is one of the major differences between the “system” of soccer in other countries and our system here in America, where the top players in the country typically pay to play. 

We could spend numerous articles evaluating the socio-economic impacts of both of these varying systems and the equity of the game world wide, not to mention the abuse of these systems, but that’s not the point of this article.  The point is simple: as a country, we are getting better in comparison to the rest of the world, and our youth national teams have historically found a huge level of success. So why can’t we win the World Cup?

It all boils down to the decision of 16 year olds.  At 16 years old in the rest of the world, a small percentage of very good soccer players have to make a very bold decision: to sacrifice everything, move to a soccer club (often in a different country) and dedicate their lives to become a professional, or to choose a different (often safer) career path.  The risk is immense; the percentages of players that actually end up making a team and earning a professional spot, let alone becoming a well paid athlete who represents their country, is astoundingly small.  But this sacrifice and commitment is the reason nations like Brazil, Germany, Italy, Spain and France find themselves consistently at top of the world rankings. 

This system creates a level of desperation and dedication that cannot be replicated.  When an average foreign player steps onto the field to represent their country, they are around 28 years old.  They have been playing soccer for 12 years in the most competitive environment every day to essentially earn money to eat, live and put a roof over their heads.  That level of competitiveness and mentality far outweigh the American model, where high school and college soccer is played for three and a half months in the fall. The other countries are truly playing a different game, requiring their players to make a huge level of sacrifice and commitment to dedicate themselves at a very young age to go for glory with often nothing to fall back on. 

With all that being said, a change has started to take shape.  In the past five years, we have had many more young American players who have made that extremely difficult and bold decision to go overseas, to take all the risk and try to make it as a professional.  The most prominent example is Chrisitian Pulisic, who made the jump over to Germany at 16 and is now playing for one of the biggest teams, Chelsea, in England.  In order to beat the best, we need our guys playing in the foreign leagues to become the best.  The game is growing here, and we truly do have some amazing talented players walking around our streets in America.  But we have to remain patient as we need to be supportive for our young men who are paving a new path for American players. 

So, when will American hoist that World Cup trophy?  It’s tough to say, we’ve got a long way to go.  But in the meantime, we need to continue to watch and support the game and all of our players as we try to push them on to greatness.  The best and most honest advice I can give players, if your dream is to be a fan of American Soccer and our pursuit to be World Cup Champions, is to root your heart out for our Women’s National Team.  They’ve already won it four times. Let’s give it up for the ladies, and hope the men can get their acts together.