Last Saturday, much to our collective surprise and dismay, the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team lost to the Netherlands in the first game of the knockout round of the FIFA [International Federation of Association Football] 2022 World Cup, in Qatar. In many and obvious ways it was a very sad day for the young team; in other ways it was the beginning of a four-year campaign to bring the sport to the attention and adoration of the American people and the world.
In this country, soccer has always played second fiddle to that rough-and-tumble (and maim beyond repair) contact game of football—strangely, what soccer is called in every other country in which it is played. Football takes center stage these days for the better part of every year; there is rarely a sports report or, for that matter, a news report which does not mention the up-coming competitions and the whacky comings-and-goings of celebrity players that parade across our media whenever they can catch someone’s eye.
Soccer, on the other hand, is a relatively non-contact sport, but for the occasional body chops and trip-ups. It’s much safer to play, so kids can start at a young age, and it doesn’t leave its players with permanent damage, short of some torn ACLs and some major headaches. It’s an intelligent game as well, requiring serious thought among its players and strategic coach, trainer and team homework before each match. It is also a game of intensive and studied teamwork; persuading that little round ball to make its way speedily down a field, deftly guided and dribbled by myriad fast-moving feet, and then to somehow sneak by a towering, far-reaching and agile goalie, is an obscure feat—hence the low scores in soccer games. In this World Cup, 90 minutes of real game time and an inordinate number of stoppage minutes (563 minutes in this year’s Group Stage) have averaged 2.58 goals per game; 24 of 48 of those games have been scoreless in the first half.
What has been remarkable is the depth, ability, age and future of the Baby Eagles. They are the second-youngest team in the World Cup (the youngest distinction goes to Ghana), with a core group aged under 24 years old. Their captain, Tyler Adams (who is from Wappingers Falls, New York) is 23; one of their star scorers, Christian Pulisic, is a year older; Brendan Aaronson is a mere 22 and Gio Reyna’s 20th birthday came just before the team played Wales last month.
Despite their loss last Saturday, and despite the fact that they have not yet reached the professional levels of the Dutch and English teams, the American team has finished this World Cup in a very good place. They now have experience and age on their side as they prepare for the future. They have sparked a growing interest in and fascination for the game of soccer, both here and abroad, and that is very good news for the next World Cup, which will be held in America, Canada, and Mexico in 2026.
The 2022 World Cup has given the USMNT a look at the beginning of a carefully crafted trend. With another four years of playing experience, enhanced by their European training, our Baby Eagles will become giants, and the generations that follow will reach even further.