For years, the United States has striven to become a world power in soccer. Even as a majority of the country failed to acknowledge the sport, the die-hards in this country looked forward to the day when America’s passion for winning, combined with a population that seemed to populate every sport successfully, would lead to us competing with the likes of Brazil, Italy, and Germany.
Now, after a disastrous Gold Cup, accusations of financial impropriety from leadership in the FIFA scandal, and a domestic league that has a number of recognizable players but fails on the international level, U.S. soccer may have achieved its goal of matching a world power. That world power, however, may be England, which at one time may have been a compliment but now is a slight.
When looking at the current state of U.S. Soccer, the similarities to England are eerie:
1. The overrating of stars
For a long time American soccer fans have been overrating the “next” stud talent that would lead the country to dominance, but that obsession has shifted to current players. Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley can do no wrong and it is a crime that more international soccer pundits do not recognize how awesome they are.
Just like the long litany of English players that were supposed to lead their club to World Cup glory, the US has a similar issue exceptAmericans do not tend to turn as quickly on these players when they don’t succeed; we hold on just a little too long.
The US soccer media and public — just like the English journalists and fans — love to overhype young players that could be the next big thing, but never reach their pinnacle. Two examples are Freddy Adu and David Bentley.
2. Top heavy talent pools
Both national teams have some legitimate stars in their starting XI and areas of strength. However, when you move beyond the starters, the depth of both countries’ national teams are lacking compared to the world powers. Injuries, suspensions, and poor play lead to a drop-off in production that exposes an overall talent pool that pales in comparison to Germany, Spain, and Italy. Yet don’t mention that to either fanbase.
3. Inability to see league in wider context
Is MLS improving? Yes, but failing to win a CONCACAF Champions League title is pretty telling where the league ranks compared to Mexico. Just as English fans cannot fathom the Bundesliga (or even La Liga) being better leagues in terms of players and style of play, American soccer fans try to compare MLS against the top European leagues and not those within their own hemisphere, where the rankings would still be a disappointment.
4. Domestication of top players
In the 2010 World Cup, England was one of three nations to have its entire roster playing in its domestic leagues. Soon the U.S. could join those ranks, as its top stars flee Europe and Mexico for less competition, a higher paycheck, and the comfort of the U.S. The names have been discussed to death, but no longer do U.S. players need to play overseas to prove themselves as world class or even worthy of being considered world class.
In 2014, England had one player on the roster that played abroad (a back-up keeper) but the other two entirely domestic squads from 2010 (Germany and Italy) had diversified their rosters. Soon, maybe only England and the U.S. will be growing their own international teams domestically.
5. Inability to see the growth of the game around the world
When the U.S. lost to Jamaica in the Gold Cup, the near unanimous reaction was that the U.S. has choked, not that Jamaica had caught up to a stagnate U.S. system. England, as “inventors” of the game, have long had the issue of seeing other names play their game better than they do (Hungary 1956 e.g.). At least England invented the game; the U.S., as relative latecomers, should have more of a desire to remain ahead of.
6. Coaches are gods, until they disrespect the domestic league
It took years for Sunil Gulati to woo Jurgen Klinsmann to the U.S. National Team, but despite the up-and-down results his comments on his players returning to MLS is what has rankled most fans and turned the media against him. Just as in England is the domestic league sacred, a national team coach slighting the league is a mortal sin that only winning the World Cup can absolve.
7. Inability to win on penalties
England fans could relate to the U.S. loss in penalties to Panama. After all, the history of the England national time is mired with disheartening losses due to penalties missed both during a match and in sudden death. Now it seems that the U.S. is falling into the same trap.
8. The odd desire for a domestic coach
When things are going poorly for the national team, the fall back for both England and the U.S. is that a domestic coach is needed to lead the team. U.S. fans yearn for the days of Bruce Arena or wonder what Jason Kreis can do on the international stage, and England fans got their wish with Roy Hodgson being hired for the last World Cup cycle.
For some reason both fanbases think domestic coaches have the key to understanding the players and games in a way that foreign coaches do not, although many times a “foreign” perspective may be what is needed to shake up the national team system.
9. Not hosting the World Cup is baffling
Both nations have hosted a World Cup, but the fact that there are a number of first world countries that have not hosted this prestigious tournament but probably should is baffling to fans of both nations. Even setting aside the suspicious nature of Russia and Qatar winning the most recent bidding process, the idea that Australia (soccer isn’t even the most popular sport!) or the Netherlands could win a bid is incomprehensible to these fanbases. Don’t even try to suggest Canada to them, who just successfully hosted the Women’s World Cup.
10. Both have much better women’s national teams that do not get the respect from fans
Yes Three Lion fans, your women’s team is better and more successful than your men’s team in recent years. And don’t think you’re much better, U.S. fans; just look at NWSL attendance.