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.