15/04/2024

Christian Pulisic has started well in Italy with AC Milan. Picture: acmilan.com

“Dempsey is denied again, AND DONOVAN HAS SCORED! OH, CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS? GO, GO, USA!” That was the spine-tingling piece of commentary from the legendary Ian Darke during America’s crunch match against Algeria at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Requiring a victory to book their passage into the knockouts and secure top spot in the group at the expense of England, up stepped star forward Landon Donovan in the first minute of stoppage time.

During that moment of jubilation, the realisation hit home that a sleeping giant had finally awoken on the world stage.

Three years prior, iconic marvel David Beckham put pen to paper to join the LA Galaxy to become the biggest name to grace Major League Soccer.

The numbers that followed straight after summed up the instrumental impact of the star midfielder.

Attendance increased by 40 per cent, 250,000 shirt sales were ordered before his arrival, and a new TV deal catapulted by an extra $242 million proved that America’s potential in the sport was scarily coming to fruition.

During that same year in 2007, an in-depth review on the grassroots level laid the foundations for a revamped Development Academy to focus on creating a better environment for player progression.

MLS expansion teams, marquee signings, and a growing love for the round ball game helped change the footballing landscape in the U.S. forever.

Only a failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup halted a degree of enthusiasm and hope, resulting in the sacking of manager Bruce Arena and the U.S. Soccer president.

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This time around, America will not have to sweat over qualification for the World Cup as they will co-host the event with CONCACAF neighbours Mexico and Canada in 2026.

It may seem like an eternity away, but the recent booming success of football in the States will only fuel interest at the perfect time when the biggest sporting event to hit American shores arises.

What makes this time different compared to 16 years ago? Is the U.S. experiencing nothing but another sugar hit?

The MLS has undoubtedly grown leaps and bounds since the unveiling of Beckham which has witnessed 23 expansion clubs, more exposure to attract foreigners, creating pathways for Americans to play abroad, as well as packing out stadiums.

Ironically it was Beckham, co-owner of Inter Miami, who successfully negotiated a deal to bring Lionel Messi to South Beach during the recent transfer window.

For all of the Englishman’s accolades and admirable standing in the game, Messi’s presence is of a completely different magnitude.

Arguably the greatest player of all time, the 36-year-old is a current world champion and also in the discussion of potentially adding to his ridiculous seven Ballon d’Or crowns.

Messi’s shirt unveiling at Miami’s home stadium in front of fireworks and a sellout crowd magnified the off-field frenzy in its entirety.

Not only have Inter Miami become the most followed franchise in American sport on Instagram, but Google Trends data highlights that the exposure of the MLS is at an all-time high.

According to a Washington Post poll, eight per cent of Americans confirmed that football was their favourite sport, more than a six per cent increase since 2004.

Now challenging the major U.S. sports such as basketball (12 per cent) and baseball (11 per cent), the next generation of Americans is inspired and captivated like never seen before.

Speaking of the next generation, many current U.S. players are making a name for themselves overseas in Europe’s top domestic leagues.

Known as ‘Captain America’ for donning the captain’s armband and existing as the face of the USMNT, former Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund winger Christian Pulisic is already becoming a household name in Italy for powerhouse AC Milan.

With one goal in each of his first two Serie A matches, club CEO Giorgio Furlani detailed the astronomical effect that Pulisic’s signing has had in his home country.

“We saw a big uptake in terms of interest in the U.S. The AC Milan shirts we sold in the U.S. in the week after [Pulisic] signed, 90%-plus were [No.] 11 Pulisic,” he told ESPN.

Capitalising on a large contingent of American-Italians in the States, television network CBS Sports (home to Paramount+) is emphasising their coverage of Italian football as well as the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, and the UEFA Champions League.

Never has America experienced such a significant interest and passion for football.  

Joined by fellow American Yunus Musah to the fashion capital, another Italian giant in Juventus has realised the growing potential in the U.S. market, holding Weston McKennie and Timothy Weah in their ranks.

Add in Tyler Adams (Leeds United), Zack Steffen (Manchester City), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Barcelona loanee Sergiño Dest, along with 45 other Americans plying their trade in Europe, America has its golden generation in the palm of their hand.

Perhaps, the establishment of the Development Academy in 2007 has something to do with the impressive talent coming through.

However, it’s not just U.S. footballers making a splash in the big time. American business owners are splashing their own money by investing hundreds and millions of dollars across Europe’s elite.

Milan’s signings of Pulisic and Musah are part of a long-term vision to market the club brand both in the States and globally, spearheaded by American owner Gerry Cardinale.

Then you have the likes of Stan Kroenke at Arsenal, Fenway Sports Group controlling Liverpool along with part-time investor LeBron James, the Glazer family overlooking Manchester United, and AS Roma owned by Dan Friedkin to name a few.

Suddenly, American dominance is rapidly spreading before our very own eyes.

Australia can draw similar comparisons.

Much like the U.S. having to compete with other sports that are more popular in demand such as American football, basketball, and baseball, Australia has struggled to share the limelight with the AFL and NRL since, well, forever.

Financial investment is another area that both nations should look to ameliorate in order to keep up with the top countries that have done nothing but implement investment.

You just have to look at the slow decline of the U.S. women’s national team to realise the dramatic change.

Unlike Australia though, the Americans have the necessary financial resources to take football to the next level in a sport that is already flourishing. 

Signs could be pointing in the direction of positive change regarding that aspect through U.S. Soccer awarding a record $3,050,992 million in grant funding earlier this year.

As the participation numbers and intrigue grow beyond expectation within the American soccer community, more pressure will be firmly placed on the federation to continue to invest and innovate.

Whether you decide to call it football or soccer, it doesn’t change the fact that the sport has taken full flight in a nation with the footballing world at its feet.

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