World Cup: From fall kid to contender, USA mean business in Group B clash with England | US News

“Soccer’s coming home,” they sing to the tune of the Skinner and Baddiel classic.

It’s a favorite chant for American fans ahead of the World Cup showdown to poke fun at their English opponents.

We heard it from the crowd watching the University of Maryland take on Fairleigh Dickinson University.

The joke, of course, is the replacement of the word “football” with “soccer” – for British listeners it’s a text that could only have been written on a blackboard with a fingernail.

As far as support elevators go, it’s on the harmless end of the scale, a far cry from the terraced attrition found in the land where the game began. Some cultural traditions seem to carry over longer.

US football is football, but not quite as we know it in the UK, let alone how we pronounce it.

Here, players “spin and burn,” wear “cleats” on their feet, not boots; Take “PKs”, no penalties and, yes, take liberties with the name of the game.

From fall types to contenders

However you put it, the US men’s team has come a long way. They’re Fall Guys-cum contenders in a sport America discovered late.

As the game grew worldwide, it struggled for space in a crowded sports market supplanted by American football, baseball, basketball, and others.

America’s male soccer players have long been overshadowed by the country’s women’s team. You’re a sporting superpower and a serial World Cup winner (four-time record).

Women’s soccer has benefited from a collegiate system that has attracted many of the nation’s top female athletes to soccer scholarships, while their male counterparts have gravitated towards more traditional US sports.

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The US Soccer Hall of Fame at FC Dallas
The US Soccer Hall of Fame at FC Dallas

FC Dallas’ US Soccer Hall of Fame hosts an exhibit commemorating the 1950 World Cup game, when America’s men famously beat England 1-0.

It was such a shock that they made a movie out of it: The Miracle Match. Seventy-two years later, a US win over England in Qatar would not be miraculous.

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Who is likely to be world champion?

The US women's team is the permanent winner
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The US women’s team is the all-time winner

Men’s football has “taken off”

After a stilted journey towards an established football setup, the US men’s team is ranked 16th in the world.

FC Dallas President and Chairman Dan Hunt spoke to Sky News about how men’s football has grown domestically.

He said: “The success of American football really dates back to 1994. The World Cup here in the United States brought about a new generation of players on the men’s side.

“Women’s football was already successful and doing well, but the excitement and energy that brought about really kickstarted football in this country.

“It was a history of seizures and starts and stops. You look at the big win against England in 1950, which was such a reference point, and then we basically went dark for 40 years between 1950 and 1990.

Maryland fans are confident their country's team will have a good World Cup
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Maryland fans are confident their country’s team will have a good World Cup

“The old NASL (North America Soccer League) has come and gone. The promise we had to make as a country was to create a professional premier league and that’s what brought MLS (Major League Soccer) to life.

“The early years of MLS were incredibly difficult but the most important moment for me was the 2002 World Cup where the US team did really well with a bunch of MLS players.

“Some had already gone abroad and had success in Europe but that was really the foundation because just a year earlier MLS had been talking about going out of business and that was the little boost we needed.

“Since then, MLS has really picked up speed.”

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The USA and Wales share the points at the World Cup opener

11/21/2022;  Al Rayyan, Qatar;  United States of America forward Timothy Weah (21) reacts after scoring a goal against Wales in the first half during a group stage match during the 2022 FIFA World Cup at Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports
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Timothy Weah gave USA a point in the opening game against Wales. Image: USA TODAY Sports

While football club academies in America have increasingly become a gateway to the highest levels of the sport, the collegiate system still offers a route to professional football.

The University of Maryland is a talent powerhouse – graduates of its scholarship program have competed in the last five world championships.

Sasho Cirovski is the university’s coach whose career has spanned decades of growth in American football.

Sasho Cirovsky
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Sasho Cirovski says football has come a long way in the US

He told Sky News: “The American college system is unique in the world. It’s the only place in the world where you can combine top-flight academics with top-flight football in a residential setting with great facilities.

“You’re ready to deal with being away from home, you’re ready to deal with the expectations of performance.

“You get scrutiny from the media, you get challenged by the coaches and you’re around players who also want to be top-class professionals and win championships. So when you have such a support network, you can grow and you can thrive, it allows players to achieve their dreams.

“We have the great advantage in this country that we can watch, experience and learn from other sports. The American athlete has a character and a competitiveness – a winning mentality, a toughness bred across different sports.

“For a long time we had to learn from the Bundesliga or the English Premier League – now we can see it in our own country. But we can see it from other sports too, so there’s really a wide range of learning opportunities around you that shows you what it takes to be great.”

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