Soccer in the United States goes back to the turn of the 20th century. We own one of the oldest national soccer competitions in the world – the U.S. Open Cup which began in 1913. However, soccer has long lived on the fringes of our sports culture. The 2017 Gold Cup– the North American regional tournament – is currently taking place here in the United States and it presents an interesting question:
Where will the next big goal come from?
See, our soccer history is dominated by big goals in big games in big tournaments. This history begins in the 1950 World Cup. In that tournament, we defeated the number one team in the world – England – one to nothing on a goal scored by Joe Gaetjens. The game was such a huge deal that it is commonly referred to as “the miracle on grass” and even has a movie depicting the team and game.
In 1989, Paul Caligiuri scored the “Shot Heard Around the World” in a World Cup qualifier against Trinidad and Tobago. The thirtieth minute goal secured the first World Cup qualification since 1950. This, in turn, secured the 1994 World Cup which occurred in the United States. This led to the establishment of our top tier professional league, Major League Soccer (MLS). And finally, MLS assisted in growing the game and propelling the success of both the Men’s and Women’s National Teams.
Ten years later, our big goal ended in multiple magazine covers. Who can forget the image of Brandi Chastain celebrating a World Cup victory? And while we’re on celebratory goals, just over ten years after that the world woke up to our country’s growing soccer fandom. In 2010, Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria created a celebration throughout the country. It even impassioned a former President – who was in attendance – to enjoy adult beverages with the team in their locker room afterwards.
Soccer in the United States has exploded between that time and now. Since 2010 for instance, professional soccer has grown from thirty-eight to sixty teams. With Major League Soccer (MLS), the North American Soccer League (NASL), and the creation of a brand new league by soccer mastermind Peter Wilt all still looking to grow, you are guaranteed to see even a larger presence of the world’s game in the United States. This includes plans of our own Indy Eleven who have expansion dreams of moving up to the top tier.
If you’re doing the math, it seems every ten years the US Soccer program has a big moment. But the life span of an international soccer player isn’t that long. Only a few play in three World Cups (twelve years) and only a handful around the world play in four – including our own Hoosier DeMarcus Beasley. And we have begun to see the next generation of players start to assert their foothold over the future of the US Men’s National Team (USMNT). That’s why you should be watching this year’s Gold Cup tournament.
When the twenty-three player roster was announced nearly a month ago, there were many observations. But one that kept occurring was the glaring absence of established names like Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, and others. In fact, the majority of players have played less than ten games for the United States. Others even called it a “B squad.” While some see this as a Bruce Arena experimental folly, I see this as an opportunity to see the likely next goal scorer that takes our soccer to the next level.
Players have always stated that being selected to a national team for an international tournament is a time to “show their stuff.” This is true for defensemen like Omar Gonzalez who once was seen as the next starting center back. It also gives an opportunity to Eric Lichaj who long has been a fan favorite, but has never gotten the full chance. Still young, both Gonzalez and Lichaj are far from reclamation projects and this tournament could cement their usefulness in the upcoming qualifiers and next year’s World Cup.
It also serves as a beginning of what is certain to be long international careers for players like Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola, and/ or Kelyn Rowe. The trio may be vying for the same spot on a crowded roster next summer. Watching each of them play at different times in different games over the next few weeks should be exciting to see which one of them begins to stand out.
And then we have the newcomer Dom Dwyer. Dwyer – who is married to Women’s National Team star Sydney Leroux – became a full American citizen just this past March. He came across the pond from England nearly a decade ago in order to pursue an American dream and scored in his first and second games with the team. It’s almost like Dwyer is finishing what Gaetjens never did those decades ago. And then there’s Jordan Morris – the swashbuckling striker who seems only to capitalize at every opportunity presented to him.
It is very likely that our next big goal comes from one of these youngsters. Based on our national trajectory, it could come in the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Only time will tell on that point however. One thing is for certain though: we should enjoy the show this month and get to know these players now as the future is upon us.