For decades, we've been hearing about the "supposed meteoric rise" of soccer in this country. Many haters of the sport are quick to point out the popularity of American Football, Basketball, and Baseball as the magical triumvirate of sports within the United States.
While this is true, the narrative is both outdated and factually incorrect. Soccer is growing at an incredibly fast clip within the country. In terms of tangible evidence, look no further than at the youth levels of the United States National Team program. Young athletes from the United States are plying their trades at exceptionally prestigious clubs abroad. Others are enjoying good success stateside in MLS.
There are a few rudimentary reasons for the growth in popularity. For one, soccer is much more available to the public from an accessibility standpoint. Every four years, the World Cup is a spectacle taking major networks by storm. Major tournaments (The European Championships, The Confederations Cup) are widely broadcasted -- as are clubs games in England, Spain, Italy, and Germany.
Traditionally, it was rather difficult to watch a European contest live from the States. Today, it's exactly the opposite. As such, the new-found exposure is opening up a door to an entirely new generation of athlete.
The recent findings on the danger surrounding American Football is also contributing to the shift in popularity. Head injuries (and the requisite aftermath of these injuries) has been a widely spoken about topic across the sporting world. Simply put, many parents are unable to place their child in a sport where brain damage is a real possibility. Over the past decade, youth participation in football has steadily declined from where it once was.
The United States in particular has seen a few of its players feature for bigger clubs. Goalkeeper Tim Howard started out his career abroad at Manchester United (as did Jonathan Spector). Landon Donovan began his storied career in Germany before coming back to MLS with the San Jose Earthquakes.
As it currently stands, a golden age of development is occurring within the United States' soccer system. Never before have we seen a larger collection of talent attached to a plethora of big-time clubs. There's no guarantee that any of these players will "pan out" as stars, but it's certainly a massive difference from a historical perspective.
To name a few, here are some of the youngsters currently committed to clubs abroad in Europe:
Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham)
Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge)
Gedion Zelalem (Arsenal)
Emerson Hyndman (Bournemouth)
Luca de la Torre (Fulham)
Brooks Lennon (Liverpool)
Mukwelle Akale (Villarreal)
Ben Lederman (Barcelona)
Konrad de la Fuente (Barcelona)
Joshua Pynadath (Ajax)
Matthew Olosunde (Manchester United)
Haji Wright, Nick Taitague, Weston McKennie (Schalke)
McKinzie Gaines (Wolfburg)
Josh Perez (Fiorentina)
This list doesn't even include domestic players such as Tyler Adams, Derrick Jones, Erik Palmer-Brown, or Josh Sargent. Plus...there's that Christian Pulisic guy. The 18-year-old starlet out of Borussia Dortmund is already the likely best player on the senior team.
What does this all mean?
For one, it's the most talented pool of players the country has every produced. While it's unlikely for the United States to be competing for a semifinal berth in the 2018 World Cup, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibilities to see that scenario unfold in 2022.
While we will never be the rest of the world in terms of soccer being the dominant sport in our country, we truly could be on the cusp of the first "golden generation" within the framework of the soccer scene in the United States.
Image Source: Kyle Terada