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How US Soccer can keep its fans and gain some new ones

With the US missing out on the World Cup, discontent with US Soccer among the fans has reached an all-time high. The recent US Soccer presidential election did little to change that. In fact, it really only served to fan the flames of the legions of angry fans. With the MNT not having another competitive game until June or July of 2019 at the Gold Cup, the immediate future looks very bleak. US Soccer need to take some steps to prevent this from happening. They are varied and some are vast and some are minor. Here are some things US Soccer needs to do to keep the fans (and possibly gain some new ones) in no particular order.

Stop Being So Tone Deaf

US Soccer has long been tone deaf, especially on their social media pages. When the team is winning the Gold Cup and qualifying for the World Cup, it’s not an issue. But when you miss the World Cup and then start showing highlights of games that year or give out year-end awards to players who many fans feel were to blame for this failure (Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley primarily), it doesn’t tend to sit well with many folks. So for the immediate future US Soccer, please just use your social media pages to break news, promote upcoming games and show how American players fared in club soccer. Do not put together a look back at 2017, do not give out awards to anybody, do not try to be cute and do not try to be funny. You missed the World Cup. Put your head down and quietly soldier on.

Slash Ticket Prices

This one is key. Even before the US failed to qualify for the World Cup, ticket prices had been a sticking point with many fans. From October of 2015 to October of 2016, every single USMNT friendly drew under 10,000 fans. A part of that was the performance of the team but the biggest reason was US Soccer trying to fleece fans $90 for games against teams like Iceland, Bolivia and New Zealand. You can get away with that when the team is good but again, missing the World Cup means fans aren’t going to spend that kind of money for these kinds of games. Even the upcoming friendly at the end of March against Paraguay in a 10,000 seat stadium has exorbitant ticket prices (the cheapest seats, before fees, are $52). So for the immediate future US Soccer, scale back the ticket prices. Do not price gouge people to watch a team that just missed the World Cup play meaningless friendlies against low quality opposition.

Play Home Games in Small Soccer-Specific Stadiums

Even if US Soccer takes the advice in the previous point, demand will probably still be low. We just missed the World Cup after all. Playing in smaller venues would ensure that the potentially sparse crowds look and sound a little bit better (especially on TV). Play the games in stadiums like WakeMed Soccer Park, Avaya Stadium, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Children’s Mercy Park, Talen Energy Stadium and Mapfre Stadium. These all have official capacities of under 20,000 so even if ticket sales are not solid, the crowd won’t look awful.

Play More Games (and against higher quality opposition)

This means play two games in Europe during a FIFA window or schedule some home games against South American teams. Since missing the World Cup, the US has done a good job in the quality of the teams they’ve scheduled (Portugal, Bosnia & Herzegovina plus upcoming games against Paraguay, Republic of Ireland and France). What they need to do a better job of is getting more games per window. It would have been better if they had played a second game in Europe in November and had a second home game during the January Camp and were playing two games in March. There is still time to add two or three more games in late May and early June to go with the two friendlies against Ireland and France. Scheduling like this is key both in terms of keeping the fans engaged and giving the players quality opposition to test themselves against.

Stop Scheduling Mexico Friendlies in the US

This one is tricky because the partnership between US Soccer and Soccer United Marketing could be described as shady, but it does not sit well with many US fans that Mexico routinely plays as many games in the US as the US does and draws substantially larger crowds (for example, in 2017 El Tri’s average attendance on US soil was 48% higher than the USMNT). With the Gold Cup being played in the US every two years and Mexico coming to the US at least once during World Cup Qualifying, that should be more than enough games for Mexicans in the US to see their team. There doesn’t need to be a number of friendlies thrown in on top of that. US Soccer and SUM need to stop having Mexico play here so much. And for good measure, let’s take a break from playing the cash grab friendlies against Mexico as well. It’s very disheartening to the fans and the players to be on home soil playing in a road atmosphere (the last two examples of this are 2015 in San Antonio and 2014 in Phoenix).

Make Some Home Run Hires

This is easier said than done of course but over the next few months two massive hire will be made: USMNT Technical Director and USMNT Manager. Both hires need to be not just good ones, but splashy ones as well. They need to be hires that the fans can get behind and not spend all day bickering about on Twitter. For the Technical Director job, names like Carlos Bocanegra, Garth Lagerway, Earnie Stewart and Claudio Reyna have all been tossed around. Those would all be quality hires. For the USMNT Manager, names like Tata Martino and Juan Carlos Osorio have been thrown around. Hiring either of those two would immediately take the USMNT up a notch. But whoever gets hired for these jobs needs to be good.

Phase Out The Old Guard, Bring In The New Guard

This really falls on whoever the next manager is (and in the meantime Dave Sarachan). There’s plenty of time before the next round of competitive games to bring in a new batch of fresh, young players and bring them up to speed at the international level. Guys like Weston McKennie, Josh Sargent, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Julian Green, Matt Miazga and Rubio Rubin all need to be called in more often while guys like Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler, Tim Howard and Graham Zusi all need to be phased out or dropped entirely. If the message is building for the future, give the fans players to watch for the future, not the players of the last two cycles.

These are just a few steps US Soccer can (and should) take towards ensuring they keep the fans they still have and possibly gaining some new ones. Nothing can fix missing out on the World Cup, but if these steps are taken it should help make sure than fan support for the US does not bottom out at any point during the push to get to Qatar 2022.

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  1. Larry Kern

    March 2, 2018 at 2:03 pm

    Lawrence Dockery: I agree with you as long as you differentiate between talent, and stars. Again, no star or even talented player with career ambitions in his right mind would waste time going to the MLS. Their respective national team coaches would NOT be impressed and would not include them in their lineups. Additionally their earning potential would be severely limited when you compare with the potential salaries they could earn in one of the top Euro leagues.

  2. Larry Kern

    February 28, 2018 at 7:39 pm

    Erik, glad you were a fan and participated in “soccer’s heyday”. But seriously dude…we have NEVER had “world class players” playing in the US. The players you mentioned, even the great Pele were ALL well past their time and could not have commanded starting positions on any quality teams in Europe. Moving to American leagues was and will continue to be a “retirement” move. None of these players, including Pele, continued playing for their national teams and could not have even if they had wanted to. Having said that, these players were the most exciting to watch (saw Cruyff play for the Washington Diplomats). So, please Eric, don’t imply that “world class” players used to play in the US leagues. They don’t now nor have they ever.

    • Lawrence Dockery

      March 1, 2018 at 10:07 am

      I do think we’re starting to see a shift away from signing aged European stars of yesterday towards young South American talent. Atlanta United and the Portland Timbers are at the forefront of that shift. And aside from the LA Galaxy still trying to chase down Zlatan, I don’t see many teams going after the older former stars.

  3. DiRT

    February 28, 2018 at 12:17 pm

    Ticket prices are a big sticking point to me. I know they have no control over Ticketmaster, but $45 a ticket for “cheap seats” is ridiculous.

    • Lawrence Dockery

      February 28, 2018 at 2:15 pm

      Totally. And I also get that they don’t set the prices for events like the Gold Cup or Copa America Centenario, but they 100% set the prices for friendlies and World Cup Qualifiers and some the prices have gotten obscene in the last three years. $50 for a Tuesday night friendly right after missing the World Cup is damn near extortion.

  4. Erick van Hofwegen

    February 27, 2018 at 11:34 pm

    Having lived the hay day of soccer in the early 70’s to 80’s and worked as a ball boy for the New York Cosmos I’d say we won’t drop to that level because it truly is a popular sport in this country. This won’t change, crowds will drop a little because we did not qualify, but you need to follow up the joke of the new president elect with a solid international coach. I hate to say this but it has to be someone that lives and breathes international soccer and unfortunately you will not get that from a present day American coach. I agree with most that you wrote please keep in mind I grew up as a first generation American. My dad was from the Netherlands and my mom from Argentina. So as you can see I grew up watching International soccer and I got to meet the likes off Pele, Carlos Alberto, Johan Neeskens to name a few. I was surrounded by World Class players and they are way different than our team that faced Trinidad Tobago in the final qualifier. We need a championship world class Technical Director and Coach. Once we have that and the players buy in you will see the difference. I saw Ricky Davis from the New York Cosmos turn from an American Soccer player to have the heartbeat of an International player. Attitude and culture is the difference. Great article and really enjoyed reading it.

    • Lawrence Dockery

      February 28, 2018 at 10:36 am

      Thanks man. Appreciate. And I agree about needing a good hire for coach and technical director. Personally, I would love to see Earnie Stewart get that job. He’s played at the international level for the US (and even scored at the 1994 World Cup) and has been a fine technical director for teams like AZ Alkmaar and the Philadelphia Union. And personally, I would love to see Tata Martino get the mangers job. Dude has won everywhere he’s ever been (internationally or at the club level). And it’s no coincidence that his last two international teams fell completely apart after he left: Pararguay hasn’t been good at anything since he took them to the 2011 Copa America Final and Argentina nearly failed to qualify for the World Cup after he left them.

  5. jason

    February 26, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    Lowering ticket prices is an obvious good idea. It is by far the least likely point on this list to actually happen. I don’t see it happening. Nobody lowers the price on anything nowadays when it comes to sports ticketing.

    • Lawrence Dockery

      February 26, 2018 at 1:08 pm

      Totally agree. It 100% needs to happen but I very highly doubt that it will happen. But hey, I’ve been wrong about stuff before. I mean, the new stadium in Atlanta has the lowest concession prices in sports. Did anybody think that would ever happen? And it’s already starting a trend (several SEC schools are doing the same for basketball and baseball). So it’s possible, but I agree unlikely.

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