Soccer in America:  A Stepping Stone at a Time

A Piece by Mike Brienza

Did David Beckham bring soccer to America?  Was it one single player that rose America to the world stage?  All of these answers are viable options for America’s rise to be a global soccer power, or even as a significant moment for ‘soccer coming to America’ (as it is so popularly coined).  At each significant moment in US Soccer history, soccer pundits and fans alike speculate that is the moment that will make soccer popular in America.  It is actually not by one moment or one significant player, or event. 

It is the culmination of them all over the years.  It did not begin with David Beckham, or the beginning of MLS.  In reality, it began at the formation of the US Soccer Federation (USSF), and has slowly but surely been moving along since.  1994 was significant as it was the first time the World Cup was hosted by America. 

In 1996, Major League Soccer was established, bringing professional soccer back to America since the days of the NASL.  2002 marked the furthest the USMNT (US Men’s National Team) had ever gone in the World Cup since 1930.  2007 marked David Beckham’s arrival to America while still on the better end of his prime due to the Designated Player rule.          

The MLS has taken great strides since 2007, in particular by expanding the league and the amount of players that can be applied to the DP rule.  The MLS has also shown great progress in the development of players.  Stuart Holden, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, and Jozy Altidore, all began their careers in MLS.  Howard went on to play for Manchester United as a starter for a brief time; Dempsey has become a stand out at Fulham scoring some of the most key goals in Fulham’s history.  Jozy Altidore is playing for one of the top five teams in La Liga, while Stuart Holden was named to the Premier League 11 for the first half of the season.

The players have taken positive strides which has in turn impacted the national team, from 2007 to 2010, the US Team has transformed in front of our eyes from a team that would not compete with world class teams, to beating Spain in the Confederations Cup and going toe to toe with Brazil in the final.  Their accolades over the four years include:  The Gold Cup Title, 2nd Place in Confederations Cup, first place in World Cup Qualifying, winning the World Cup group and bringing in a record number of television viewers for an American soccer match. 

The progress of American soccer is not only evident within the national team, or the MLS, or the respect for American soccer; but also by the youth soccer that has grown considerably.  With the youth clubs producing more quality coaches and the more focus on skill, clubs are producing talent at a higher rate.  Walking around regular atmospheres of schools or malls, soccer jerseys are far more prevalent now than ever before.  This is not saying that soccer will begin competing against football or basketball in sports but that it will simply stand beside it, rising steadily. 

The US has years to go before it will be a world-class league and team; it is not something to be disappointed about, but excited for.  We are fortunate enough to watch America rise in soccer, steadily producing more talent and witnessing the growth it will take over the next few years.  The growth of American soccer will not be seen in one grand moment, but it will be the stepping-stones that it has taken since its introduction.  Soccer’s emergence in America will not be by one person but by the group of us all, by the team that we stand with.  It will grow by the progress it has made, and the stepping-stones all along the way.