The United States of America is a country known for its sports. Passionate fan bases have followed Baseball, American Football and Basketball for years with fanatical detail and interest. The fandom for soccer has never quite reached the heights as the rest of the nation’s favourites, but you get the feeling that is starting to change.
This is certainly being reflected on the business side of things. Since 2004 the MLS has seen its revenue increase dramatically. Television viewership has shot up for leagues across the world, and soccer’s popularity has increased bit by bit, every year. Due to this, more North American eyes than ever will be turned towards USMNT’s trip to the World Cup in Brazil. So what exactly can fans realistically expect?
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Well, let’s start by being the bearer of bad news: they definitely won’t be winning the World Cup. Even the most optimistic fans of the national team will tell you that. But for a team of their talent and depth, they have had relative success in the competition before. However, they will struggle to replicate that success this year as they have been drawn in one the toughest groups in the tournament. Group E (USA, Ghana, Portugal and Germany) would present a giant challenge for any team, let alone the USA.
Last time the USMNT played in the World Cup they had a fairly successful tournament. They tied England for points total in their group and played well against the competition, even earning a 1-1 draw against outside tournament favourites England. Whilst they were expected to make it out of their group, I don’t think anyone could begrudge them to going out against a Ghana side that only missed the semi-finals due to penalties.
So what’s changed since 2010? Well, first and foremost: Jürgen Klinsmann has perhaps rather controversially not called Landon Donovan up to the squad. A lot of US soccer fans are upset at this fact. Donovan has been the USMNT’s talisman for many years now, and far and away America’s most popular soccer player since Alexi Lalas. I don’t think the omission of Donovan will hurt USA much on the pitch, but they will miss his locker room presence and vast experience.
However, even without Donovan, USA do not lack for talent and ability in their squad. Midfielder Michael Bradley recently left AS Roma to pursue more playing team with Toronto FC. It was a wise decision, he wasn’t seeing much time on the field in Italy and it means he’ll be in better condition to improve the USMNT’s chances in 2014. The attacking side of the midfield is blessed with their best player by a long shot: Clint Dempsey. Since 2010 the full time soccer player and part time rapper ‘Deuce’ has enjoyed an impressive prime playing with Fulham FC and Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League. He has now returned to his home nation where he plays for Seattle Sounders in the MLS scoring an impressive 8 goals in 5 games to end the 2014 season.
Even with some impressive individual talent it’s very difficult to see USA progressing anywhere this time around. This isn’t a slight against the squad’s ability; rather it’s a testament to the strength of teams they have drawn against in the group stage. Not only are they up against a disciplined and strengthened Ghana team that knocked them out last time, but they also have to deal with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and one of the tournament favourites Germany. USA’s primary goal will be to keep it respectable and engage in damage limitation, as they won’t be expected to win or even qualify from their group.
So, perhaps the USMNT won’t win the tournament. But what USA fans can expect is a team that will offer their best in the face of strong competition. Even if the campaign doesn’t last as long as they want it to, it will provide a fun and exciting summer for the ever growing core of soccer fans in North America.