Is it Finally Time for American Soccer Fans to Connect with their Roots?
Theo Schimmel, Grade 10, Staff Writer
For years, American soccer fans have avidly watched games in Europe while neglecting the teams playing in their backyard. This is fair, to say the least, as the United States Men's National Team (USMNT) has been a running joke since their emphatic loss to Trinidad and Tobago that saw them miss out on the 2018 World Cup as a whole. The MLS, the first division of professional soccer in the U.S, hasn’t impressed either, as it’s been seen as the haven for washed-up European stars. However, both the MLS and the USMNT may finally be picking up some traction. But is either something that Americans as a whole can actually support?
There’s a lot to be excited about for the future of the USMNT. They’ve seen a host of Americans thrive in Europe and make a name for themselves with teams like Chelsea, Barcelona, or Juventus. Christian Pulisic has been poised to be the golden boy of American soccer since he stepped foot onto European soil about five years ago at just eighteen years old. While he’s had his fair share of injuries at Chelsea, at twenty-three years old, he’s the cemented leader of this youthful team. Backing him up are the likes of Weston Mckennie (Juventus F.C), Sergiño Dest (F.C Barcelona), and Borussia Dortmund’s Gio Reyna. Scattered throughout Europe are Americans who could well make their way into the squad come the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
Aside from the actual players themselves, supporting the USMNT is slowly but surely going to become a more fun thing to do. After the 2014 World Cup, which the U.S. did oddly well in without actually turning any non-American heads, they gained the status of underdogs amongst others competing. Such a status has always been fascinating to Americans, even while they’ve pretty much steamrolled over the competition in international basketball, baseball, and, especially, women’s soccer.
After the 2014 World Cup, the USMNT started to gain some traction and developed a hectic but large fanbase. However, after missing out on the 2018 World Cup in an embarrassing fashion, many were deflated and the fanbase dwindled as the team itself lost almost all respect. From 2018 to 2020, the fans who remained by the team’s side were thrust into an uncomfortably awkward position. With what went on politically during the peak of immigration issues in America, the Black Lives Matter movement, and more, supporters were forced to question their brazen patriotism towards the United States. It was an uncomfortable situation for both the players and those cheering them on. In October of last year, African American midfielder Weston McKennie spoke on playing for a country that he had trouble supporting: "I went back home to Dallas and I'm afraid to drive at night just because I don't know what's going to happen if I get pulled over. I'm representing a country that possibly doesn't even accept me just for the color of my skin.”
Now, however, the fans are slowly coming back, along with players who have rekindled the fire in them to play for the USA. In second in qualifying in North/Central America and twelfth in FIFA’s most recent official rankings, the USMNT could bring back pride in being an American soccer fan.
Major League Soccer
The MLS has had a really bad reputation for years now. While, yes, it was a bit of a joke in the early to mid-2010s, its quality has increased tremendously in recent years. The old and regressing European stars who used to come into this league to feel like a superstar one last time amongst the lowly competition are now struggling. Gonzalo Higuain, one of the biggest attacking names in Italy, and Blaise Matudi, a World Cup winner, have come into the American League and have been, plainly, terrible. A host of players in the MLS are now linked with big moves to Champions League level teams and are following in the footsteps of other MLS-originated players including Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich) and Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund).
While the quality of play is lower than that in Europe it deserves more credit than it gets. It takes a few games of getting used to, and you will surely be thinking that you know at least one person who could outclass a field full of MLS players, but over time it’s almost inevitable that you will gain some appreciation for what you’re watching, and especially the highly frequent “golazos” that are not anywhere near as common overseas.
Where to Start with the MLS
New York City Football Club, or, NYCFC is a great team to check out if willing to give the American League a shot. The young but bipolar team will have a crowd on their feet one game but have them leave the game early out of disappointment the next. They are based in the Bronx and play at Yankee Stadium. It’s difficult to get behind watching soccer on an oddly shaped field, but a diverse and loud fanbase makes up for it. NYCFC finished fourth in the Eastern Conference out of fourteen and is on the right track to soon make some noise in the league. The MLS is on the move and is deserving of American fans’ attention.
American soccer fans are a quickly growing community that has brought life to the MLS. At its best, Major League Soccer can offer Americans a completely different aspect of the game in live stadiums, and at its worst, it will keep you mildly entertained over the summer while there’s no action overseas.