Failing to Qualify: The Sad Story of American Soccer

By Zach Berman

Y2 staff writer

SAN FRANCISCO— Soccer has always been a sport of diversity, one that brings people from all walks of life together. As a country, America has always strived in a similar manner, through bringing people together and diversity. So why is American soccer culture lacking compared to the rest of the world?

Some of the effects of said lacking are more obvious than others— for example the U.S. Men’s National team failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup for the first time in three decades. “But root for another team!” one would say, and while some Americans may be pulling for other countries because of their heritage or a player they like, a growing population of Americans decided to not tune in during the first couple rounds of the World Cup.

According to Nielsen Media Research, the World Cup ratings for this year’s broadcast partners, Fox and Fox Sports 1 are down 42% from the 2014 tournament (for which the U.S. qualified). At least in the time I’ve been on this planet, any World Cup where the U.S. qualifies became mandatory viewing material for my family and most people that I know. Take the national team out of the equation and most people don’t seem to care. I don’t think anybody in my immediate family has watched a single game this year, and in every conversation I’ve had regarding the topic within my family, the “are you watching the World Cup?” question hasn’t been answered with anything other than a variation of “no.”

An extended day of interviews in San Francisco proved to be no different. In Dolores Park, a large group of people were literally kicking around a soccer ball, yet when asked, they admitted to not watching this year’s World Cup. Several park-goers were also wearing Team USA jerseys, yet they weren’t paying attention either. My questions to the park-goers went from “Who are you supporting in the World Cup?” to “Have you tuned into the World Cup?” to “Do you care about soccer?”

At AT&T Park during a Friday night Giants game, I got a more diverse selection of responses, as there were a decent amount of people there who were following the tournament— a majority of which were pulling for England. During the England-Sweden quarterfinal, a small crowd gathered near a TV in the Stanford Coffee House, and the people watching also tended to be pro-England. There’s no issue with that— but I certainly miss the days where I could watch a soccer game this time a year being decked out in red, white and blue.

As the third largest country in the world by population, the United States have always had a problem developing soccer at the youth level compared to more soccer-centric countries that have much smaller populations. In countries such as Spain or Germany, youth club soccer is marketed for everybody and is free to play for whoever wishes. In the U.S., school soccer teams are often not funded nearly as much (or at all) as more popular stateside sports such as football or basketball. That leaves club teams as the only option for more talented kids who want a step up in competition.

Most club teams are expensive to join, and that becomes a major deterrent for young athletes with low-income families. Why would a young athlete pay money to join a club team for a less-popular sport when he or she could join their high school basketball team for free? That keeps a large quantity of talented athletes away from the sport, and as a result, keeps the U.S. from usually being competitive in worldwide tournaments (the recent success of the U.S. Women’s team being a big exception).

This issue has become more apparent recently, with the U.S. men’s team shocking failing to qualify this year. More attention has been brought to this situation through after the star U.S. Women’s Team goalkeeper (and one of the most accomplished American soccer players of all time), Hope Solo claimed that American soccer had become a “a rich, white kid sport."

Considering that America is a country that brings people from all walks of life together, and soccer is a sport that tends to the same thing, why is America so stuck on their old soccer practices? Why can’t we just embrace the game so it can be played and enjoyed by all? There is some good news though: America is joint-hosting the 2026 World Cup with Canada and Mexico. So when that tournament rolls around, don’t worry- we automatically qualify as the hosts.

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