The United States has decided it cares about The World Cup, this should terrify every other nation.
The best showing Team USA has ever had in The World Cup came in the very first tournament in 1930, with a 3rd place finish. Six of the starting players on that squad were British-born, and the final match against Argentina became so violent that US midfielder Raphael Tracy was taken out around the 10 minute mark with a broken leg. The match was of course not televised (they wouldn’t be until 1954) or even played on the radio. It was barely covered by the American press and a decision was made for the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, to drop “soccer” and instead include American Football as a demonstration sport.
For the past 84 years, The United States has taken a decidedly disinterested view of The Beautiful Game. Save for markets in the heavily Latin American Southwest and cities with strong European influence such as Milwaukee and Boston, the only real bright spot has been the United States Women’s National Team with two World Cup victories in 1991 and 1999, both of which garnered attention and the team is still ranked 1st in the world.
Then came 2014. According to Forbes, the 2-1 victory over Ghana a week ago drew over 11 million viewers, and yesterday’s 2-2 draw against Portugal was watched by 18.22 million Americans, the highest rated match in US history. The media is going crazy today with proclamations that The United States finally actually cares about The World Cup. This may of course be a bit premature, but the numbers do show it, at least for the last week.
So far the rest of the world’s media has taken America’s newly found love of the game with bemusement and a welcoming attitude, quite gracious of them really. However, I imagine the moods in the offices of their national teams is a bit more worried, at least it should be.
As we have seen in the games of the Summer Olympics, when the United States decides it wants to win on an international level, the amount of money and talent they can throw at the competition is limitless. Just ask the Australians how it is to swim against the American juggernaut at the games. To give some perspective, the US is the most successful team in the pool ever with a grand total of 520 medals, while the Aussis are a far distant second with only 178.
If the Americans decide they like this Wold Cup thing, then there is a very real chance that they could dominate in such a way as to completely destroy their competition.
This is however, not an absolutely assured thing though. Major League Soccer, the US top league, is a joke. It is seen as a graveyard of the sport, full of has-been Europeans as well as Americans and Canadians that weren’t good enough to play across the pond and make real money.
Add to this that only about half of the current Team USA plays state-side, and that their head coach is German, and formerly the head of their national team.
Maybe though they don’t need a vibrant and competitive top league of their own in order to win internationally. Team USA has done well so far securing talent from Americans playing abroad and first-rate coaching with the lure of big dollars. After all, nothing could be more American.
It seems almost assured that Team USA will make it out of group stage this year Although they will face much harder competition in the knockout, it will be very interesting to see if they can pull off upsets and, more importantly, if the crowds get even bigger to watch. We will see but the world has been given notice that the United States is watching.