What does a successful World Cup look like for the USMNT? While many words have been written about the tournament, I haven’t seen much analysis regarding what USMNT fans want to see in the results. Despite many thinking, "Let’s win as many games as possible!", the question is much more nuanced than it first appears.
To begin, the USMNT will not be winning the World Cup, under any circumstances. Now that we have eliminated that possibility, it is fair to ask what the Federation’s goal is. The only conceivable goal is to win a World Cup as soon as possible.
With that established, what could happen over the next month and a half that would contribute to that goal? In order for the USMNT to win a World Cup, they need more young people playing, better U18 development in the country, and increased chances in Europe for younger players. What is a realistic outcome that will lead to these three outcomes in the future?
The US is often described as a "sleeping giant" when it comes to their prowess as a football nation. This is because of their high GDP per capita and large population, which are typically positive indicators for national team performance. However, the US suffers from a lack of participation in youth soccer, especially compared to the sports the United States typically dominates on an international stage, such as basketball.
For more children to play soccer, it must become a cultural phenomenon. Luckily, the US is in a great place for this to happen. The team is full of incredibly marketable, young stars that people will gravitate towards. What they need is exciting highlights and social media collaborators creating content around these plays and USMNT off the field antics. The Federation can help promote this by allowing as much media access as possible and publishing their own content. We need 10 year olds around the country watching the World Cup, and getting goosebumps when Tim Weah beats a man down the field and releases a shot from range.
Improving U18 youth development is something every federation is constantly thinking about. The current system of development is MLS NEXT, started in 2020 as a successor to the USSDA. It is composed of individual teams sponsored by MLS teams and individually run who have to pay for all operations of the team. These costs often get passed down to the players, which is obviously a massive hindrance towards the player pool. A short term fix towards this would be players visibly donating to their former academies during the World Cup.
This World Cup is already a massive boost for the US Soccer development system, with 17 of the 26 players coming through the USSDA. This is the first time the majority of the roster is from the professionally development system, as opposed to college or overseas. If the US wants to be a national team powerhouse, as little reliance on the NCAA development system as possible should be the goal. Players from the USSDA system, like Brendan Aaronson, showcasing technical ability in tight areas will go a long way to showing others the massive potential our U18 system has, increasing investment.
Finally, increased chances for players in Europe, where they can be tested against the best of the best, growing their skills. Now, this can be accomplished in two ways, with current players on the team, and future players.
For the current players, it is obvious. Play well, get rewarded. It’s easy to imagine Jesus Ferreira scoring goals and earning a move in January, or Matt Turner standing on his head and moving to another Premier League club as a starter in the summer. Some of our current pool need moves, whether it’s Sargent moving up or Pulisic finding a new home, and a stellar World Cup will only help this.
For future players, this is a bit less obvious. When players like Aaronson or Reyna go overseas it is a massive decision for both them and their families. Aaronson has spoken about it being lonely in another country by himself, and the difficulty of this should not be underestimated. When these same players are performing at a World Cup at ages 22 and 20, they become role models. Our brightest young talents see what they did, and how it’s possible. They provide inspiration to people in Europe currently slogging it out, like Kevin Paredes, and show younger talents what they can achieve if they push themselves out of their comfort zones.
To summarize, a successful World Cup for the USMNT would show off our exciting young talent to the crowd at home, which needs our highlight reel players to produce and inspiring a new generation to pick up a ball and play. We need to show the rest of the world that the players we are developing now are much more technical than they used to be, and our youth system is worth investment. Finally, it would be nice to see our star players perform like stars, and advance their careers.
For me, these are the things I will be focusing on, instead of the draw we are liable for when a deflected shot dribbles in to tie a game in the 84th minute (I still wouldn’t want to be standing next to me when this happens). I will be encouraging everyone I meet to watch the games, and sharing as much content as I can. I will be doing this because for me, it’s a small way to contribute towards a World Cup in the future, bringing us all together towards a common goal as a country, which is the beauty of world football amidst an ugly tournament.