US Soccer has a chequered history, it must be said. From the glitzy 1970’s days of Pele, Bobby Moore, Franz Beckenbauer and the New York Cosmos to the current and expanding Major League Soccer, never before has football – as we know it here in England – been so popular across the pond, but I ask this question: is the beautiful game finally on the verge of realising its huge potential in the US?
“Soccer” of course, it could be strongly argued has never really truly got off the ground in America. Overshadowed largely by numerous other sports, including Baseball, American Football and Basketball, soccer just hasn’t had a look in stateside, but the feeling is now rife that this is all going to change. Women’s football and the changes to educational curricula to involve soccer for kids have boosted the game at the all-important grass roots stage of development in America, and we will very soon begin to see the real benefits of this.
Continual, steady growth from the Men’s National Team has not only boosted the team’s profile, but also highlighted the desire of young Americans to play a sport that was previously alien to them. Yes folks, football, has arrived in the USA, and it’s there to stay.
So, what’s changed for US Soccer since the much feted North American Soccer League of the 1970s and the early years of MLS? Most importantly it’s the structure and people’s beliefs. Children are now playing soccer at school, they are playing soccer at home, and for the very first time they know all about Jurgen Klinsmann and Landon Donovan. Their teams are also regularly hosting top European sides in the European off-season of the summer months.
Only in the last few days have we seen Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and my very own Crystal Palace playing against some stiff American opposition in our pre-season friendlies. Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Italian giants Roma are also competing in the 2014 International Champions Cup, which is held in various stadiums across the country.
Playing in the US is of course part of any big team’s marketing ploy – the advantages of tapping into a foreign merchandise market are just too good to turn down for most of our largest clubs, but once again, it’s a sign that US Soccer is now firmly on the global football map, and is a country where the beautiful game is to be taken very seriously.
Also on the evidence of a very successful World Cup campaign this Summer for the USA coupled by the influx of real, genuine world class players, it would now appear that MLS is now firmly in the shop window of global stars who view the American league as both competitive and, of course, lucrative.
Household names such as Frank Lampard, David Villa and Kaka have all recently signed up for a stint in the US, hot on the heels of other global stars such as David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill and Jermain Defoe. Although they are all footballers approaching the end of their successful careers, the messages sent to other similar players is simple: if it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for you.
Providing the foreign invasion is dealt with in a financially prudent way for clubs, the benefits for both MLS and its own existing American soccer stars are endless. Whilst the US Men’s National Team under Klinsmann received rave reviews globally for its endeavour and team spirit, the “X-Factor” quality was perhaps somewhat lacking. Yet playing and training with these new guys day in day out can not only help the future generation of American soccer players, but also continue to develop the current crop.
The introduction of new teams in Orlando and New York City in 2015 and Atlanta in 2017 is the stuff made of fantasy for us football addicts. Orlando City have of course climbed their way up the football pyramid, and the amazing job that Adrian Heath has done there is the stuff of legend. Heath is, of course, English and was a top flight striker here who starred for Everton, so it is nice to see him doing so well and good to see an English coach succeeding overseas.
To be able to assemble a football club from nothing would be a dream come true for any football fan, and particularly with the budgets available to these clubs. Not forgetting the imminent introduction of a new David Beckham experiment with MLS re-entry into the Miami market, I can’t think of another country with such huge, untapped football potential, and a league in which we will all hold a vested interest in at least one or two teams.
It’s an intriguing and somewhat unique situation, and an extremely exciting time for US Soccer. One would hope that the US National Teams can continue to grow, improve and win more fans worldwide.
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