As the World Cup in Brazil concludes this week, I cannot help but ponder its impact in the United States. The future of the “beautiful game” in the U.S. may be much brighter, and it has this year’s World Cup to thank for it.
The U.S. national team made it out of the acclaimed “group of death” after a stunning 2-1 victory over Ghana and an improbable 2-2 tie against world power Portugal with its superstar Ronaldo Cristiano.
After being written off by many, the U.S. pushed through to the round of 16 before going down to Belgium in extra time. The Americans, however, did not go down without a fight. Tim Howard put on a goal-keeping spectacle unlike any in recent World Cups, making 16 saves en route to the United States’ 2-1 loss.
This, many have said, is what will fuel U.S. soccer fever until the next world tournament, and help to inspire American athletes to pursue professional careers in the sport.
While I do believe the passion and heroics of the U.S. national team will play a part in the sport’s continuing growth in the U.S., there will be no sustained soccer rage in this country until we produce strikers and playmakers who can dominate the world stage.
Sports fans aren’t stupid. We know who the good teams are and if we are smart enough, we keep our expectations in check. Even the USA head coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, said going in that his team – our team – had no chance of winning the World Cup.
We do not have the sort of dominating attacker who becomes a spectacle on his own and whom young American athletes emulate as they choose which sports they will play.
It’s the international stars that draw out our thirst for greatness. Stars like Messi, Neymar, and Ronaldo, who bend the rules of the game, stifling opponents with their will to win and unparalleled skills.
Every four years we watch in awe at the display of talent the rest of the world has to offer, the amazing goals, the incredible teams, and the ultimately underwhelming performances of our own national team.
With apologies to Clint Dempsey, who left the English Premier League as one of its better players and soldiered through the World Cup with a broken nose, the U.S. simply doesn’t have an attacker at that top level, though there may be no one better in the world than Tim Howard at stopping the great attackers.
It’s a bit disheartening to hear Klinsmann encouraging America’s best players to sign with the European professional teams instead of the MLS. No doubt he’s correct that they will develop faster by competing against the best. But Clint Dempsey has far more impact on American soccer – and, thus, world soccer — playing for the Seattle Sounders than he could have playing in any other country.
By frequently drawing crowds of more than 50,000 the Sounders have shown the potential popularity of the MLS. The hope is that as 10 of Team USA’s players rejoin their Major League Soccer teams, the league gains a boost in attendance and sponsorships.
If and when the MLS does in fact become major league, we will see the U.S. as a major threat to win the World Cup.
FIFA’s olympian extravaganza allows us to see a sport performed at a level of artistry we cannot approach in our own country. We sit and observe in awe at teams laden with talent, like Germany, Argentina — really, as it always happens, ALL the teams that make it to the semi-finals.
We sit, and we yearn. Yearn to catch up to the rest of the world. Yearn for a chance to one day produce a player like Lionel Messi, Diego Maradona, or the legendary Péle.
Until that day comes, we will just have to be content buying our Messi jerseys and secretly picking teams to root for in the field of 32 other than the stars and stripes.
Click here for CBS Sports’ coverage of the World Cup.