The 2014 World Cup has seen the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) win over fans worldwide. Can their dream continue?
It’s cold out in the football wilderness. No one can save you, no one will try. The media, sponsors and fans, all are fickle in nature. The sunny days come all too rarely and are gone just as quick as they came. Major tournaments come and go and yet for some intangible reason you remain shunned and football’s dirty little joke.
United States football has long been football’s jester. Don’t take them seriously they are just here to make up the numbers. In a country dominated by American Football, Basketball, Baseball and Ice Hockey, it’s been hard for U.S. football to make a discernable impact. A game that endorses nil-nil draws with no winner doesn’t appeal to the American ideology of sports. Play to win and if you can’t win you find a winner in overtime or penalty shootouts.
The journey of U.S. football to this World Cup starts on the other side of the aisle. American women were winning the inaugural Women’s World Cup three years before the country hosted the male stage in 1994. They won it in again in 1999. It is the women’s game which set the bedrock of U.S. football. For a sport to grow and thrive it needs champions. It doesn’t matter where they come from.
With the country hosting the highest average attendance for a World Cup in 1994, it became clear that something was about to happen. An average of 69,000 people watched games across the country. Immigrant influence and domestic curiosity had fused to begin a love affair. They lost out on getting into the last sixteen only by goal difference. A solitary goal enough to see them out. But that failure was another step in the right direction.
In 1996 the MLS, Major League Soccer, was developed to create a domestic league inside the country. Very different to the failed attempts of the seventies which saw the likes of Best, Pele and Beckenbauer come over on lucrative contracts. But the money and attendances were unsustainable and the bottom fell out.
This had a new feel about it. Building upon the momentum of USA 94, the league has developed more and more, to the point where David Beckham will soon open a new team in Miami. But still the football Zionist’s scoff. Established in 2015 doesn’t have the same purity as 1878.
There is something that has been deeply engrained in the psyche of the American sports landscape. Compete yes, but win more importantly. When the stars and stripes are up, you don’t let them down. There has however been a maturing of this attitude in recent years.
Fans have watched on with blind hope rather than overbearing expectation. An unexpected journey is better than the one mapped out. So across America in towns and cities they have gathered in their thousands to watch on big screens and be part of the journey of the unknown. There is a good chance they may not win the World Cup, but they are bugged by the eternal question of the true sports fan – what if…?
And so in this World Cup the United States team has finally made the leap from quiet joke to ones to watch. Competing for respect at home and away, has developed a team that knows how to fight for their place in the football world. Respect never comes easy.
With England, Spain, Italy and Portugal all headed home early from this World Cup, perhaps the U.S. have had the last laugh too. This is the team that has finally come in from the cold.
Kehlan Kirwan, Pundit Arena.