Since the World Cup expanded to 32 teams in 1998, the eventual tournament champion has won an average of six matches over the course of about one month. To put that into perspective, the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) has won six world cup games in the last 70 years combined, across 18 total tournaments. With these abysmal numbers behind them, a new and improved, young and talented group of athletes is ready to redefine American Men’s soccer, compete on the global stage and replicate the success that the United States Women’s National Team has consistently found.
The history of the USMNT is long and painful. After not qualifying for a world cup in 40 years, the U.S. finally qualified in 1989. This was seen as a huge leap forward for the nation and its soccer team. The next leap that the USMNT took was when they defeated Mexico 18 years ago en route to their first knockout stage elimination in tournament history. But, America remained far from challenging European and South American powerhouses such as Belgium, France, and Brazil for the coveted, globally renowned Jules Rimet trophy. After failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the USMNT is looking for redemption in 2022 and to truly dominate on their home turf in 2026. And, on the back of a new golden generation, it’s looking like they are on the cusp of their next big leap forward: making this dream a reality.
Throughout history, Americans have struggled to succeed on the top tier levels of European football in the English, Spanish, French, German and Italian leagues. Back in 2012, it was considered ground-breaking when USMNT captain, Clint Dempsey, signed for premier league contenders, Tottenham. But in recent years, that glass ceiling has been shattered. Young Americans have found success amongst soccer’s biggest stars and on soccer’s biggest teams. 22-year-old Christian Pulisic netted nine goals and four assists while helping lead Chelsea to the Champions League last year, 22-year-old Weston McKennie is thriving alongside global soccer sensation Christiano Ronaldo at Juventus, 21-year-old Tyler Adams helped lead RB Leipzig to the Champions League semi-finals and the USMNT is also representing top clubs Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, PSV Eindhoven and more. For the first time in a long time, there seems to be hope.
While American soccer players have long been criticized for lacking the technical skills that are ingrained into the European soccer player’s repertoires, this new wave of American youngsters is different. As America has invested more time and money into their soccer development programs, the results are finally starting to show. Thanks to the U.S. Soccer Development Association (USSDA), American youth soccer has changed for the better, replicating the successful programs that have been established in Europe for decades. While previously training 50% less than international counterparts, the USSDA now has aspiring USMNT stars training together exclusively for 10 months per year under the guidance of dedicated and licensed coaches.
The impact that this has had on American development is immeasurable. U.S. Soccer Director of Boys Talent Identification Tony Lepore explained to Sports Illustrated how these players are more prepared than ever.
“The academies are clearly developing more players that are ready to make this transition from academy to pro, and they’re so much better prepared than ever before,” Lepore said. “Not only are they ready, but what we’re seeing now is that they’re ready to go to the top levels internationally and make a difference. They’re young players making a real impact and helping their teams get results.”
And 18-year-old Giovanni (Gio) Reyna is a shining example of this. Reyna has been playing, and most importantly contributing, for Borussia Dortmund since he was 16 years old and Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke recognizes how advanced and refined his talents are for such a young age.
“Reyna’s a big, big talent,” Watzke said in a statement to The Athletic. “I think he will do a lot for American soccer in the next five or 10 years. Like Christian [Pulisic], he has time to develop. He needs time, but he already has everything a player should have.”
The healthy mix of peak-age talent, nationally labeled “The Golden Generation”, that the USMNT possesses, places the team in a promising position for these upcoming world cups. However, the USMNT must qualify first. After winning their last three games by a combined score of 15-1, the team is in good form. They have performed well during Concacaf World Cup Qualifiers but will be looking to beat Mexico, Honduras, and Costa Rica in order to secure their spot in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup.
This team certainly has young, refined talent, but most importantly the squad also has clear chemistry and determination on the pitch. No matter how promising the group looks, it is important to retain tempered expectations. To put it into comparison, according to ESPN, the USA currently has only three players valued at over $20 million while the French National Team has 25 players valued at least that much, who aren’t even considered talented enough to make the World Cup Roster. The USMNT will depend on further development out of their young sensations throughout the European leagues in order to start competing globally. While the team isn’t quite there yet, “the Golden Generation” is ushering in a new, redefined wave of American soccer and the fans now have hope for the coming generations. There is buzzing energy in the air surrounding men’s soccer and fast-forward to the 2022 and 2026 World Cups and the “I Believe We Will Win” chant will be resonating from coast to coast across this country.