Soccer in the United States was once on life support. After the fall of the original NASL and the failure of the U.S to qualify for several World Cups and Olympics in a row, soccer was hanging by a thread in the United States.
FIFA revolted against the other counties begging for this event not to happen, but FIFA did not listen.
They allowed the United States the 1994 World Cup.
Why did they do it? The United States had a rather horrible national team, no professional league, and the citizens, save for a choose few, could not care less.
It seems they were trying to grow the world’s most popular game in one of the world’s biggest countries. They could’ve gone with a safe pick in a soccer mad country and still have had a fantastic world cup.
But they didn’t. FIFA took a chance on the United States. And boy has it payed off so far.
There was a couple conditions that we added along the way. For instance, the United States had to qualify for the 1990 World Cup in Italy. And in their last game, they did after a fantastic chest save from Dino Vanole on a penalty kick against Costa Rica that saved a 1-0 win, and a stunning 1-0 win over Trinidad and Tabago.
They would not perform too well in Italy, but they held a powerhouse Italian team playing in Rome to a 1-0 win, a surprise considering how well the Italians outclassed the U.S. But it would be enough. American soccer had a pulse again.
The United States would be able to host the 1994 World Cup, where they would surprise everybody and knock off Columbia 2-1 in game number two, and would advance to the round of 16. They would lose to the eventual champions Brazil, but it was a 1-0 loss, and it was a sign of good things to come for American soccer.
Another one of the requirements for the U.S to gain the 1994 World Cup was to form a brand new first division league, which would begin play in 1996. They called it Major League Soccer, or MLS.
The league would face many struggles at the beginning. Some teams had to relocate or folded all together. Teams would struggle to draw fans, and playing in carnivorous National Football League stadiums did not help. None of the teams would have a stadium to call its own until 1999, when Crew Stadium was opened in Columbus.
The league would survive however. Once it’s survival was guaranteed, they turned to the next phase of growth. The league has grown from ten teams to nineteen (for now) and attendance grows very year.
Most teams now have their own stadium, as opposed to when most teams shared with an NFL or MLB franchise. The league now has a channel that shows premier matches every week, along with spots on ESPN. The growth and success of the MLS and the rise of soccer in the U.S can only be contributed to FIFA taking a chance.
Since then the national team has had many fantastic moments. In the 2002 World Cup the team beat Portugal and Mexico to advance the quarterfinals, the ideal performance in the modern era by the United States. They nearly beat the eventual 2006 champions Italy, but settled for a tie after a controversial call that waved off the go-ahead goal for the Americans (Yes I’m still bitter about it). They advanced to the round of 16 in 2010 after a thrilling stoppage time goal by Landon Donovan that saved the U.S from elimination.
Now we look for the future. We have a league that draws approximately 19,000 a match. We have a national team that is a sure-fire World Cup qualifier every four years and a dark horse to do some damage every tournament. We have American Soccer resurrected from life-support and now it is now starting to run.
The future is bright for American Soccer, and it will get even better from here.
Happy Independence Day folks. God Bless America.
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