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It is not uncommon to receive skeptical looks from both Brits and Americans when I mention the U.S.’s prospects of one day winning the FIFA World Cup. “Americans don’t take football seriously,” charge the British. “Soccer will never eclipse the NFL,” insist the Americans.
But having lived in the United States for five years, I can predict without fear that, despite the reservations of those who have weighed in on the matter, the United States international team will win the World Cup by 2050.
Actually, the U.S. has already twice lifted the trophy. The women’s national team won the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991 and repeated the trick in 1999. Further to that, this high-achieving team has never finished a World Cup below third place, and should be an inspiration to not just female footballers, but males too.
Football, albeit gradually, is growing in the United States; the popularity of Premier League teams such as Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal has never been higher, as young American sports enthusiasts open their wallets for the latest jerseys.
You only have to walk into a pub (which are also growing in number stateside) on a Saturday afternoon to see evidence of this; games, especially those between the main title contenders, often draw big crowds, from which American voices—discussing the finer points of the offside rule or the latest antics of Luis Suarez—rise high above all else.
These pubs, of course, rely heavily on NBC’s Premier League coverage—one of several ways to follow your favorite team’s exploits. Having struck a three-year deal with the Premier League earlier this year, NBC’s coverage has exceeded the company’s expectations, with ratings climbing from gameweek to gameweek.
This shouldn’t come as any great surprise; football is the the most commercially profitable sport on the entire planet, with approximately 600 million viewers tuning in globally to watch the 2010 World Cup Final between Spain and the Netherlands. Intriguingly, 15.5 million of these were American viewers, up 41 percent from 2006.
Of course, if there is one nation who knows how to capitalize financially on this sort of popularity, it is the United States. Indeed, supporters of Manchester United and Liverpool should know this more than anyone; the two most successful teams in English football are bankrolled by American owners.
Furthermore, in the form of David Beckham, the United States has an icon to raise the profile of its domestic game. Less than a year after the former England and Los Angeles Galaxy captain announced his retirement from the game, Beckham looks set to purchase an MLS franchise in Miami. Perhaps his star power, as well as his undoubted connections in the game, can help expand the reach and quality of Major League Soccer in the coming years.
Undoubtedly, though, the biggest sign of things to come lies within the nation’s high schools, specifically their fields. More and more goal posts are cropping up around the country and, according to a report by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, soccer has been the fastest growing high school sport since 1990, having seen the number of young players more than double in that time.
If children are the future of the beautiful game in the United States, then the nation’s football future is certainly bright. Working in education over the last two-and-a-half years, I have graded hundreds of papers referencing the student’s perfect role model. Two names frequently come up: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Of course, unlike La Liga’s perennial top scorers, the current crop of American internationals rely not on immense skill but on physical prowess, a feature that detractors have criticized as “one dimensional.”
However, what these critics might be forgetting, and what I have come to find during my own occasional playing time this side of the Pond, is that future U.S. footballers are being positively impacted by the technical know-how of a growing demographic: Latino Americans.
Mexicans and other Latino immigrants often bring with them an infectious love of a mesmerizing style of football unique to Latin America. Indeed, one rising U.S. soccer star who is of Mexican extraction—Luis Gil—is thought to be in Jurgen Klinsmann’s plans ahead of next year’s World Cup in Brazil. Perhaps as a sign of things to come, Gil has been compared to former Arsenal and current Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas, and was even scouted by the Gunners, Real Madrid and Manchester City.
The U.S.’s transition to football superpower won’t happen overnight, and there will be many who might laugh at such a prediction. In 37 years, I am convinced that a good portion of these critics will be laughing not with derision, but with jubilation.
When do you think the U.S. men’s team will be competitive for the World Cup? Make your predictions below and or tweet them at us using hashtag #MindTheChat.
And join us on Twitter Wednesday, November 13 at 2 pm ET for a chat on the Premier League season so far and England’s upcoming pre-World Cup friendlies against Chile and Germany. Tweet your thoughts using #MindTheChat.