Written By: beans|
Jul 1, 2014
There are plenty of things that can and will be talked about with the USMNT and this World Cup. Tactics. Player selection. Individual performances. What could have been. Timmy’s goalkeeping display. There will be a lot of that. So as we like to do, I’ll be talking about something slightly different in this post.
I grew up playing soccer in the 80’s and 90’s. In a time when there was no professional league here. Before we had American players to look up to. Before there was a truly viable option to have a future as a professional soccer player. We trained only a couple days a week with our club teams. We played pickup games with our friends in between skateboarding and whatever else kept us busy. Our parents trekked us all over the place on Saturday and Sunday mornings. They sat all day long in places like Bakersfield or Fresno so we could play three games a day in some tournament. They sacrificed whatever they needed to so we could play at a higher level without ever really knowing what that even meant.
We had coaches who were from far off places (and unfortunately a few terrible ones from our own neighborhoods). We traded pins and patches when we had the opportunity to play kids from other cities and states. Every once in awhile we would get to play a team from a different country. This often meant we felt inferior to them merely for the fact that they came from a place where soccer mattered. But we played. We loved it. We chose to play the sport when the easier choice would have been to play baseball or basketball or American football. But we were and still are American soccer players.
Then one day Paul Caliguiri scores a goal and the US is in the 1990 World Cup. We watched our team of young college kids with no experience enter the lions den and get eaten by bigger prey. But that laid the groundwork for what was to come. In a short amount of time it was announced that a professional league would be happening in the US. We get the 1994 World Cup and were inspired by a group of guys that would go on to inspire an entire generation of soccer players. We got to watch world class soccer in the United States for the first time at the 1994 World Cup. We got to see the US beat teams that they weren’t supposed to. We got to see American soccer players on TV and in commercials. We got to witness soccer in America in a way that none of us had a clue about.
The seeds of a sport were planted and they continue to grow ever stronger each and everyday.
Since then we have seen an incredible amount in a relatively short period of time. A professional league start. World class players join the league in it’s infancy (I see you Valderrama). Terrible World Cup performances (1998). Amazing World Cup performances (2002). MLS start to grow. MLS contracting (so long Miami and Tampa). MLS rebooting, growing again and bringing in new and fantastic franchises.
We’ve seen the likes of David Beckham and Thierry Henry come to MLS while exporting our own players like Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and others. We’ve seen some of these players make the move back to the US for sums of money that the majority of us never thought we would see American players make. Especially playing in a domestic league. We get to see our heroes play in our cities, in our league. And the long term value of this is yet to be remotely measured.
We got to witness a US team get out of the “group of death” in the World Cup this summer. When very few people gave them a chance. We saw an entire nation rally around this team. We saw our heroes become the heroes of a nation. Our soccer players, our friends, finally being viewed by the nation at large the same way we have always viewed them. And our pride in that has never been felt more deeply. We all wanted to be Timmy or Clint or Michael or any of those 23 guys on the team. And we had their backs at every moment in this journey.
It inspires me and makes me proud what these players have done. But it also inspires me and makes me proud of the way that the sport has grown in the US. The manner in which the American Outlaws and every MLS supporters group in this country have worked tirelessly to support their respective teams and the sport. The work that countless people put in day in and day out that most people have no idea about. The passion in which we supported this team as a country during this World Cup. I wish I could have experienced each and every viewing party that was put on in this country. I wish I could have spent time with more fans around the US. Broke bread with more of fans, had a drink and talked about our love for this game. This team.
It’s pretty amazing when you see players like Wayne Rooney saying he is now a fan of the US team. When Vincent Kompany sends a tweet giving mad respect to Tim Howard. When we start seeing English newspapers start writing articles like this. It’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees, but we can’t do that. We can’t look at soccer in the US in a vacuum or as singular events. Each and everything that is going on is being built off of what has happened before and what is happening simultaneously.
We may have been knocked out of the World Cup today, and that is disappointing for a lot of reasons. But if you only take that occurrence into place then you will lose sight of the bigger picture. The new TV deal MLS has. The outstanding TV ratings that this World Cup has had here. The success of the Premier League on NBC. Kaka going to sign for Orlando City. David Villa already having signed for NYCFC. The sum here is truly greater than it’s parts.
I’ll finish with this. I was watching the US game today at Nike’s 6th & Mill. We were in a room that had an interesting group of people. Radio personalities. Professional coaches. Agents. Super young kids. Former US players Eddie Lewis and Ante Razov. And then there were a few young MLS academy players. Deandre Yedlin is about 15 minutes into his surprise inclusion in the game and he stepped into the game like a boss. I tell the mom of one of the academy players that this is about to be Deandre’s time. That he is the guy who is up next. And she turned to me, smiled, pointed at the young American soccer players sitting in that room with us and said “and then they got next.”
I. Can’t. Wait.
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