Andrew Helms and Matt Pentz wrote “Own Goal: The Inside Story of how the US Men’s National Team Missed The World Cup.” The actual own goal that doomed the US in 2018 becomes a metaphor for bad mismanagement, poor development, and infighting that doomed the US Men’s bid to qualify in the World Cup. That analysis and reporting is great and it hits at the big problems with American soccer today. But the US soccer problem goes back a lot further than that.
This chart shows US Men’s National Team’s World Cup record. At the top are the best finishes. The highest dot?
It’s third place. At the bottom, 16th place. And all these dots at https://crystallball.org/? These are times the third most populous country, with the largest global wealth, failed to even qualify. This is bigger than an own goal. And it’s not because soccer isn’t as American as apple pie.
We have proof. Americans suck at the game they call soccer. But they’re also the best in the world. These are the US women’s World Cup performances since play started in 1991.
Champs, champs, champs. It’s not about American culture. It’s about the American men’s game. When you stop looking at the present and start looking to the past, You find a lost golden age of American soccer.
You also find the reason it’s been doomed for almost a hundred years. In 1926, 46,000 Americans crowded into a Manhattan stadium to see Hakoah, an All-Star European soccer team, lose to Americans. In the paper that same day? A season high Yankees baseball game – that 4,000 fewer people went to see. The 1920s was American soccer’s golden age.
But to understand it, you have to go even further back. In the 1860s, soccer and rugby existed on a bit of a continuum — people played a little bit of everything. In 1863, rules were finally established in England to build a game that played more like the soccer we know.
The US diverged from the English soccer game with the first Harvard-Yale football game — which would quickly turn into American football. Until then, Ivy league colleges had played a more soccer-like game, but Harvard challenged Yale to a rugby-style game they’d learned from McGill in Canada. That game was a hit, and Ivies like Princeton quickly picked it up. That was the first split between European and American football culture. By 1905, soccer was still being “tested” in America as “college football” took off. But the tragedy of World War I slowed down European sports culture.