Out maybe, but 'soccer' is in good health

December, 06/2022 - 07:19
The USA may have crashed out of the World Cup on Saturday with a whimper rather than a bang in their 3-1 defeat to the Netherlands, but off the pitch, the beautiful game is in rude health in the land of the free and home of the brave.
USA coach Gregg Berhalter shakes hands with forward Christian Pulisic following their team's 3-1 loss to the Netherlands on Saturday. AFP Photo

Peter Cowan

Unlike in Hollywood movies, there are few happy endings in football.

While only one team can lift the trophy at the end of this World Cup though, that doesn’t mean silverware is the only prize on offer.

The USA may have crashed out of the World Cup on Saturday with a whimper rather than a bang in their 3-1 defeat to the Netherlands, but off the pitch, the beautiful game is in rude health in the land of the free and home of the brave.

Among the many strange obsessions that afflict the British press, the compulsion to make fun of how Americans talk about and interact with football is one that’s always grated me.

It’s boring, condescending (especially considering the rubbish outlets like Talksport serve up under the guise of analysis) and now, outdated.

Anyone who knows me knows I have an unhealthy obsession with American football, so my social media feeds have been stuffed with American pundits who have all had plenty to say about soccer over the last month (if you genuinely have strong feelings about the use of the word soccer I suggest seeking professional help).

Peter Cowan

Spoiler alert – these pundits haven’t been talking about the World Cup like the American idiots you might imagine, but with plenty of knowledge, nuance and most importantly, passion.

The same is true of the casual American fans I know, people who spend very little time engaged with the sport outside of World Cup time, much like many of the fans of the other nations in the tournament, by the way.

In the past, these fans would have been far more comfortable debating LeBron versus Jordan or Brady versus Manning. Now, they’re bemoaning Gregg Berhalter’s squad selection right down to the 26th man with an impressive depth of knowledge and passion.

I have more bad news for those who love to engage in soccer and Yank bashing – the Americans are going to be real contenders before long.

No country pours more resources or energy into youth sport, to the point where it’s frankly disturbing. If you don’t believe me, read the book Friday Night Lights and weep at the fact that at many schools, sporting success is more important than getting kids a good education.

With youth participation in American football dropping precipitously due to its inherent danger, soccer is going to benefit with more and more top athletes focusing on the sport. That combined with the resources being thrown at the game will only raise the level of the USA team.

And don’t discount the importance of all the American money flowing into top level club football across Europe, which will surely lead to more opportunities for young Yanks to develop at the highest level.

The next edition of the tournament that will be co-hosted by the USA in 2026 may be too early for them to make a deep run, after all Berhalter’s team looked conspicuously short of a cutting edge and tactical nous against the Dutch.

But I expect to see them in a final in my lifetime and permanently shut up Talksport hosts up and down the UK. VNS

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