Sunday may be the biggest day for soccer in American history, Yahoo Sports reports.
For decades, soccer was an afterthought on the American sports scene, a “foreign” sport that, outside of immigrant communities and a few diehard fans, was met with ambivalence at best, and hostility at worst, from the American sports public.
Those days are long gone, of course. Our home-grown soccer league, Major League Soccer (MLS), routinely sells out its stadiums. Every weekend, top-tier European leagues have games broadcast on American sports networks. And thanks to today’s lineup of two of the biggest games of the past several years, both taking place within hours of each other, this could be soccer’s biggest day here in the U.S.
A Tale Of Two Teams
For two decades now, the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) has been positively dominant at international women’s soccer, winning their World Cup three times, coming in second once, and never placing less than third. The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) has at times been competitive, and more recently an international disgrace, before clawing its way back into legitimacy.
The U.S. Women
To say that the U.S. women have been dominant in this year’s World Cup is the understatement of the decade. They’ve been unstoppable, having never trailed since the opening whistle of the opening game. A 13-0 drubbing over Thailand in the opener showed the entire world that the U.S. women were here to compete.
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) July 2, 2019
Of course, they were heavy favorites, and absolutely no one is surprised that they made the final this year. Today, at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time, they take on The Netherlands for what could be their fourth Cup, their third in four tournaments.
The U.S. Men
The men’s team, compared to their female counterparts, has a long way to go to even be considered legitimate internationally. Or at least, until today, had.
In a series of failures that drove home in no uncertain terms how vastly different the U.S. Men’s and Women’s soccer programs are, the USMNT failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA Men’s World Cup. At previous World Cups, the men’s performance has ranged from competitive to dismal; the U.S. men have never made it to a World Cup final.
Today, the USMNT competes in a considerably-smaller than the once-every-four-years World Cup. The CONCACAF Gold Cup is the regional tournament, held every two years, of the teams in North America and the Caribbean. They face off against arch-rival Mexico in the final tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
The stakes are, of course, considerably lower for the men. This tournament lacks the prestige of the World Cup, and indeed, whether or not a victory here will help the U.S. men in qualifying for the 2022 Cup remains to be seen.
All of that aside, however, is a larger point: soccer is here to stay in America. For the women, a victory could mean that women’s soccer, as a domestic, professional sport, could see a jolt in both popularity and in their paychecks. For the men, a Gold Cup victory could return the team to, at the very least, legitimacy in the eyes of U.S. soccer fans.