By Shane Stay, author of Why American Soccer Isn’t There Yet
For years, soccer fans have noted how the women’s side is the powerhouse in the world and men’s side is only recently becoming the head of state within CONCACAF. Traditionally, the women’s side didn’t have much competition as the rest of the world did not culturally embrace “girls playing soccer” as much as the US did. Certain countries like Romania and Russia thrived in gymnastics – a very athletic sport – but not soccer. Gradually it came to be, following this trend of the post-90s boom in soccer’s popularity with the girl’s youth club levels. The US has been a big “exporter” of women’s rights around the world, and this has transcended to the inclusion of girls playing more organized team sports such as soccer. Honestly, women’s soccer has been an afterthought around the world up until the 99’ World Cup, with all its excitement and a sold out 90,000 plus Rose Bowl Stadium that erupted on one shot that won the cup.
According to Anson Dorrance, former US national coach, a lot of his top talent got so good because they grew up playing against their brothers and on co-ed teams. Many other countries did not encourage co-ed soccer leagues, which led to early success for the women’s side. The women’s game has also benefited from a long line of collegiate sports, which much of the world lacked.
Our men’s team has improved greatly since the inception of the MLS in 1995. From that time on, soccer has grown wildly in popularity at the youth levels. However, traditionally speaking, one major factor concerning the slow progress of the men’s side has been the lack of a secure competitive professional “outdoor” league. The NASL came and went. Other lesser known leagues had ephemeral moments. The indoor league was established in the late 70s and has remained intact all these years. In the 80s and early 90s, largely speaking, the men’s side only had the indoor league to compete in. Indoor is essential in making outdoor players better, but, if you “only have an indoor league” then this will be detrimental for an outdoor team.
Up until recently, the men’s game has just plain not been embraced by American society. And frankly, there are huge portions of the population that will never embrace it – in fact, they dismiss it with out-right contempt. That’s a problem. The rest of the world has a hundred-year head start. Soccer tradition is entrenched within their psyche like baseball is to ours. Yet, with boy’s club soccer at its highest point in popularity, it might be just a matter of diligent patience for a new generation to join the women’s side and take home the other World Cup.