The United States’ performance in the World Cup Qualifiers was nothing short of disastrous, and now 330 million Americans have little reason to tune in to one of the world’s premier sporting events.
For two summer months in 2018, American soccer stars like Christian Pulisic and Tim Howard will be fuming at home instead of competing with the world’s best in Russia.
Ironically enough, the New York Times reports U.S. media conglomerate Fox has paid $400 million to the rights to broadcast the World Cup, and their main audience here in the states has little to no reason to watch.
Fox’s C-suite has no need to fear, because there is still plenty of reason for Americans to watch the World Cup despite their team’s absence.
First and foremost, there is still incredible entertainment value in the spectacle. Unlike the previous World Cup in Brazil, 2018’s installation should feature plenty of incredible soccer from the very best in the sport. Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal dominated the European qualifiers en route to a berth, and Lionel Messi disproved doubts about his return to the Argentinian team while leading them to a berth. Two of the greatest to ever play are getting another shot at one of international soccer’s most prestigious trophies.
There is even a wonderful Cinderella story to follow in Iceland, who qualified for the World Cup despite having a national population smaller than the entirety of Wichita, Kansas at 334,252. Egypt and Panama also provide compelling underdog stories for the American fan that is looking for a bandwagon to jump on for this Cup while we idly dream about qualifying for Qatar in 2022. If nothing else, American fans can take interest in their own lineages and root for whomever their pre-American ancestors would have.
Americans also need to pay attention for the sake of continuing soccer’s rise in the states.
Major League Soccer has expanded to include 22 teams currently, with more expansion on the way. According to the league, attendance for the league has grown by 57 percent over the past 15 years and the league recently set a record by pulling in more than 70,000 fans in an Atlanta United match.
The success also spreads below the top level of competition, as the Washington Post reports that second-tier United Soccer League team FC Cincinnati recorded an attendance of 30,417 for one match. The game is quickly gaining traction by establishing itself in big markets like Los Angeles and in niche locations like Salt Lake City and Columbus. For the American sports fan that may not be terribly plugged in to soccer, watching a World Cup is great exposure to the best players in the world playing passionately for their homelands.
Additionally, fans of American club teams have the opportunity to wholeheartedly support their city’s heroes even if they are not American. Instead of rooting against Nico Lodeiro or Giovani dos Santos despite owning their club shirts, American fans should feel inclined to support their players on this year’s edition of the world’s biggest stage wholeheartedly, and return their focus to the American side once the next round of qualifiers comes around.
It absolutely sucks that the United States will not participate in the 2018 World Cup. The team had every opportunity to get in on the fun, but American fans can find solace in the fact that North America’s successful bid for the 2026 World Cup ensures them of an automatic bid. In the meantime, American soccer fans should start following a different nation just for this World Cup. There is going to be plenty of entertaining soccer, and the American people will be doing their media overlords a favor by staying interested in the World Cup. American soccer as a whole stands to gain if the nation continues to show interest.
Jonah Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jonahpbaker