Across the Pond
January 1, 2000
David Beckham, seemingly, is unable to keep out of the news, football or otherwise.
We’ve have had the ‘will he won’t he play’ for Tottenham Hotspur saga, and when is he due back in the United States and ‘what is he doing there’ question. I just wondered whether the game of football will ever take off across the pond; notwithstanding of course the performance of the USA national team against England in the World Cup group game last summer. Then there is the rare, though not uncommon, USA national plying his trade in the English Premier and Football Leagues.
The amount of information and news on football USA is not particularly massive, as far as I could see, perhaps because it is the close season over there at the moment and perhaps because there is not a particularly good online coverage. However I did come across a number of websites that opened my eyes and surprised me a little. I admit that other than a famous 1-0 victory over England in 1950 and players like Harold Jarman and Pele turning out for the New York Cosmos in the mid 1970’s, I thought the history and state of the wonderful game in North America was pretty limited.
Surf Wikipedia website as the first port of call. The controlling body across the Atlantic is the United States Soccer Federation and it is they that are responsible for the national team. Given the progress made in the last World Cup, why was I surprised to find that the USA is ranked as high as 18th according to the FIFA World Rankings? I should have recalled that the States has appeared in the last six FIFA World Cups, and hosted the 1994 competition.
I thought that Uncle Sam’s best World Cup result must have been in South Africa but no, the national side’s best finish came in the inaugural 1930 tournament where it finished third. More recently they reached the quarter finals of the 2002 World Cup, and took second place in the 2009 Confederations Cup. The United States has won the CONCACAF Gold Cup four times in ten tournaments, one short of Mexico’s five and what really surprised me was that US soccer teams also took silver and bronze in the 1904 Olympic Games.
So, quite a bit of history but why do we not think so. Well the history is very spasmodic, to say the least. After qualifying for the 1934 World Cup, and withdrawing in 1938, the next World Cup participation came in the 1950 tournament. After that, the USA didn’t qualify for the World Cup again until 1990.
After the 1990 World Cup, the USA qualified automatically as hosts in the 1994 World Cup, losing to Brazil in the round of 16. From then on, the team has qualified for every World Cup since, up to and including the 2010 World Cup as we know to our cost. Some justification there, then, for FIFA placing the World Cup finals in so called developing areas football wise although I do still not buy into 2022,1 have to say.
So why then does the game in the United States need what many observers would think a perennial boost from time to time with the likes of Pele, David Beckham and our very own Harold; not even tongue in cheek because the lad from Hotwells Boys was special, could never understand why West Brom turned him down but forever pleased they did so. The Midlands outfit must have regretted their decision time and again; 440 League games and 127 goals from wide positions speaks for itself.
Perhaps the game is not so deep rooted, as is the case with our own 1883. Well from painstaking web searches of USA Soccer archives I find that it could, and should, be. Just two years after the Black Arabs were formed the United States and Canada played at Newark, New Jersey, making it the first international match held outside of the United Kingdom; the Canadians won the match 1-0. In 1886 a fixture at the same venue resulted in the US winning after scoring the only goal of the game. Thirty years later, the United States played its first official international match under the auspices of US soccer against Sweden in Stockholm, which the they won 3-2.
After the enthusiasm caused by the creation and rise of the North American Soccer League in the 1970’s there seemed real hope for domestic football in the US. Many imports from Europe and South America went there to give it a go; coaching, administration, management as well as playing. By the end of 1984, the NASL had folded and there was no senior outdoor soccer league operating in the United States. Not much has inspired since.
The money, and the climate, may be good for the Beckhams but the football is not over there; it is still over here as David probably now knows very well. I would think even a bit part in the recent Spurs v Manchester United 0-0 draw would have made the mouth water and, you never know, a cross or free kick from the golden boot may have brought about a goal.