In telling his players to change their families travel plans, in anticipation of reaching the final – what would be the first time in their history – Jurgen Klinsmann may be jumping the mark, but whatever happens at this years tournament it is surely only a matter of time before the US men’s national team win the trophy.
It is exactly two decades since USA ’94. Won by Brazil in a penalty shoot out against Italy. The final itself a neat demonstration of the power-dynamic which has seen every single tournament won by either a South American, or European nation. The hosts themselves reached the round of 16, losing 1-0 to Brazil, a respectable enough performance for what was a largely unfancied side.
Off the field though USA ’94 was meant to play a wider role in the development of North American football. For a global sport The USA had remained, football’s last great unconquered territory with a largely indifferent public used to a diet of American Football, Baseball, Basketball and Ice Hockey. Football had remained a minority interest with no top-class league to speak of since the rapid decline and collapse of the spectacular, but short-lived, NASL in the mid-1980s
As part of the deal which took the world cup to the states a new professional league, the MLS, was established in the wake of the tournament in 1996. Consisting of an Eastern and Western Conference, with five teams each it was a tentative step, with an emphasis on sustainability. So far it seems the MLS has succeded where it’s predecessors had failed. In 2013 the number of teams has almost doubled to 19, a number which will expand again with the addition of several more teams in the near future. Attendances have also grown to a healthy figure with the 2013 season seeing an average attendance in excess of 18 000, higher than both the NBA and NHL, whilst the Seattle Sounders average of over 44 000 exceeded the vast majority of baseball teams, including the Seattle Mariners.
As well as providing a stable platform for developing players the biggest contribution the MLS has made is to raise the profile of football in the states and the fostering a fan culture. It is this which is most crucial to the future of the men’s national team. In a country of over 318 million people the United States possesses vast human, as well as material resources. The combination of which has seen it dominate a vast number of sporting fields; There can be no better demonstration of this than its position at the top of the 2012 Olympics medal table with 104 medals, 46 of them gold. The nearest rival, China managed a total of 88.
The lesson is that when the USA turns its attention to a sport success almost inevitably follows. Already there are signs of increasing amounts of resources being directed at football, and in particular player development. In 2007, following a comprehensive review of player development, U.S Soccer established a development academy focused on elite youth players, bringing together national team coaches and youth academy sides, many of which are attached to MLS clubs.
In achieving world cup success the US men’s team would also simply be following in the trail of the US women’s side. Currently ranked 1st in the world by FIFA the US women’s national team has won a host of titles, including the women’s world cup in 1999 and Olympic gold medals in 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012.
When the US is determined, it is a force to be reckoned with.