Will the U.S. National Team’s popularity change with this year’s World Cup?

The U.S. National Team fan group named “The American Outlaws” supporting their team. (Photo by Erik Dorst via Wikimedia Commons)

With the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar less than three weeks away, soccer fans in the United States of many different backgrounds prepare to represent their home nations. The United States Men’s National Team is set to participate in the tournament for the first time since 2014 after missing out on the 2018 edition, and this World Cup presents a unique opportunity for the U.S. men. 

The melting pot of different cultures in the United States has almost made it difficult for the country’s national team to be the most well-supported on home soil. The Stars and Stripes, seemingly, can’t play a Latin American eleven anywhere south of Atlanta because they’ll surely play as the away team. Here in Miami, we have the largest discrepancy between those likely to support the USA and those likely to support their home nation due to the city’s diversity. 

This year, there is a unique opportunity for domestic soccer in the States because of the timing of the 2022 world cup. Qatar’s harsh climate forced the tournament to be shifted to the fall as opposed to the summer when it’s usually played, and for this reason the USMNT will be front and center in this country as they play England, Wales and Iran. Every group stage game has been scheduled for 2 p.m. Eastern time, including the black Friday showdown against England on Nov. 25th. This USA squad features the likes of players like Christian Pulisic, Giovanni Reyna, Weston Mckennie and Brenden Aaronson who are all making names for themselves at big clubs in Europe’s top leagues. Having this many Americans excelling at the highest level of the sport is unprecedented, and it’s uncharted territory going into a world cup.

The problem is that they have that “American” tag on them that turns fans away, even those from the United States. But with the world watching during the holiday season and being four years out from the World Cup coming to the U.S., this is a huge opportunity to change the narrative about American soccer here at home and around the world.

“I definitely do feel optimistic because the past decade we’ve developed a lot of talent via our youth development teams.” said Deyvan Bryant, a Liverpool fan and a participant in a non-scientific survey. “We have a lot of guys playing world class European football, and we are only going to improve as time goes on and we develop more and more kids here in the US.”

Interest in the sport is expected to skyrocket over the next four years because the 2026 FIFA World Cup will be held on our home soil, alongside Canada and Mexico, but with this year’s World Cup approaching, how big of a soccer fan base lies within the general American public?

More importantly, how big of a following does the domestic soccer scene have in a city with such a diverse population? 

The four “major” sports around the United States have long been considered to be football, basketball, baseball and hockey, but an increase in popularity across the youth, pop culture, and broadcasting rights have given soccer a boom that is making it the fastest growing sport in the U.S.

A report published by Telemundo Deportes, titled “The Future is Futbol”, suggests that the change in the United States’ demographics over the last 12 years have played a pivotal role in the growth of the sport. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. saw an increase of 11.6 million Hispanic residents from 2010 to shoot the population up to 62.1 million Hispanics. 

That number makes up 19% of all Americans.

That’s a huge chunk of the population, of which 73% identify as soccer fans according to Telemundo’s report.

Being that Miami’s population is largely made up of hispanics, I decided to test this by conducting a non-scientific survey on 16 random sports fans, 13 of which were Hispanic.

Eight of 16 said that their favorite sport was soccer while three more added that it was their second favorite sport. As the subjects were asked about what teams and players they admired, there was a trend in all their answers.

The 11 fans that had an interest in soccer were asked about their favorite clubs and you heard the expected answers like Manchester United, Barcelona, Chelsea, and Arsenal to name a few, but what interestingly only two said they supported their local team, Inter Miami CF.

They were also asked about the players they admired. 

Erling Haaland, Lionel Messi, Luka Modric and Bukayo Saka were some common answers among these, but again the support of domestic soccer was lacking. Nobody listed an Inter Miami or U.S. National Team Player, so at that point a clear conclusion was reached.

There is not a lack of interest in soccer in the United States, in fact there is an abundance of it. But there is a severe lack of support for the domestic league and national team.

“In MLS there’s no penalty for being [bad]” said Tony Green, one of the fans surveyed and a former high school soccer player. “There’s a salary cap and every team is sponsored by Adidas, like the NBA and NFL”

The franchising of soccer clubs in this country has always been a point of criticism from American soccer fans and fans around the world, but the response wasn’t any more positive when asked about their thoughts on the U.S. National Team

“Garbage,” “We should be better,” “Mediocre” and “Potential that’s being wasted” were some thoughts on Team USA from those surveyed, which was surprising considering that this current squad is thought to be the most talented group of players in their history. 

This year’s World Cup can change this for the better. 

The World Cup has long been considered the world’s greatest unifier bringing people from all types of different backgrounds together to celebrate life through soccer. In fact, of the eight subjects surveyed that didn’t choose soccer as their favorite sport, seven of them said they planned on watching the world cup this year. 

The tournament draws eyes regardless of whether you like the sport or not, and those who are fans of it see the world cup as a transcendent experience that is up there with the best that life has to offer. 

In Telemundo’s report, The Future is Futbol, 38% of Hispanic soccer fans said watching their country win the world cup would be one of their three most important life events. This placed ahead of getting married (34%) and getting their dream job (36%), and it was only beat out by the birth of their child at 43%.

“I’ve been watching sports my whole life and no other sport makes me feel like soccer does.” Barcelona and Colombian National Team Fan Tania Jiminez said when being surveyed.

Soccer is growing in this country. Many people are already fans of it and prefer it to sports like football and basketball, but Americans are lagging behind in the support of our domestic league and national team. In three weeks, the U.S. National Team has a big chance to market themselves to the world and to fans back home in the states when the World Cup kicks off in Qatar, and they need to make sure they represent American soccer properly before the build up to 2026 when the tournament comes home.

The World Cup begins on Nov. 20th and the United States open play in the world cup against Wales on Nov. 21st.

Alfredo Banegas is a junior at Florida International University majoring in digital journalism hoping to combine his passion of sports and writing to become a sports writer. Alfredo looks to make positive changes in the way sports are covered in today’s media landscape.