United States of America
- Capital: Washington D.C.
- Official Languages: None at federal level
- National Language: English
- Nicknames: The Stars and Stripes; The Yanks
- Association: United States Soccer Federation (USSF)
- FIFA Code: USA
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Third Place (1930)
- Best World Cup Result (Women): WINNERS (1991, 1999, 2015, 2019)
- Best Olympics Result (Men): Silver Medalists (1904)
- Best Olympics Result (Women): GOLD Medalists (1996, 2004, 2008, 2012)
- Best Gold Cup Result (Men): WINNERS (7 times)
- Best Gold Cup Result (Women): WINNERS (8 times)
- Best Copa América Result (Men): Fourth Place (1995, 2016)
- Best Confederations Cup Result (Men): Runners-Up (2009)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 4th (April 2006)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 1st (Various)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 35th (July 2012)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 2nd (Various)
- Most Capped Player: Kristine Lilly – 354 caps
- Top Scorer: Abby Wambach – 184 goals
The United States of America is unquestionably the biggest superpower in the world, having the world’s biggest economy, and the third largest population in the world. It is unquestionably one of the powerhouses of CONCACAF football and in world football, especially within the women’s game. Stretching across the width of North America, it is one of a few countries in the world that has both an Atlantic (eastern) and Pacific Ocean (western) coastline, as well having a south-southeast coastline on the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. The 48 contiguous states of the Union share a southern border with Mexico, whilst having the world’s longest border with its northern neighbour of Canada. The country’s largest state of Alaska is situated to the northwest of the United States, along Canada’s western border, and separated from the rest of the United States by the Canadian Pacific Ocean province of British Columbia. Finally, the 50th archipelago state of Hawaii is located within the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and situated about 2,000 miles (3,200km) west from the US mainland.
Football in the United States has a long history of it being played the country with European immigrants (in particular British and Irish immigrants into New England) introducing the sport to the States throughout the late 19th century. However it wouldn’t be until 1913 when the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) was formed, with the USA becoming a full member of FIFA in the following year. Despite reports of international games being played against Canada prior to the formation of the USSF, the United States’ first officially recognised game came in 1916 when they beat Sweden 3-2 in Stockholm.
Football in America encountered its first ‘boom period’ throughout the 1920s and early 1930s resulting in the standard of the national team increasing rapidly. As a result of this, they were invited to compete in the inaugural World Cup in 1930, held in Uruguay. The USA surprised a lot of people during the tournament by beating Paraguay and Belgium in the group stage and reaching the semi-finals of the tournament, eventually claiming a third place finish in the tournament (still their best World Cup finish to date). They would play in three of the first four editions of the World Cup, famously achieving one of the most shocking results in the history of the tournament by beating England 1-0 in Belo Horizonte during the group stage of the 1950 World Cup – a game later known as “The Miracle Match”.
- FIFA’s Video on “The Miracle on Grass“: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4ESTvxyqsI
Agonisingly for the United States, numerous heartbreaks, missed opportunities, the dominance of Mexico in the region, and a lack of World Cup qualification spots for the CONCACAF region, meant they would have to wait 40 years before making their next appearance in the World Cup. Ultimately a 1-0 away win over Trinidad & Tobago in their final qualification game in 1989 (a game which T&T only needed to draw to qualify for the World Cup themselves) finally confirmed their qualification to football’s greatest tournament after so long. This would be the start of seven consecutive qualifications for the United States to the World Cup between 1990 and 2014. Famously they hosted the tournament in 1994, which helped kickstart domestic football in the country once again and re-establish a national league in the form of Major League Soccer (MLS), replacing the void created after the financial collapse of the glamourous North American Soccer League (NASL) in the early 1980s. Hosting the tournament also saw the home side reach the Round of 16 for the first time since 1934. However, the best performance during the modern period of the USMNT (United States Men’s National Team) came in the 2002 World Cup, when the Stars & Stripes managed to reach the quarter finals of the tournament, beating historic rivals Mexico 2-0 in the Last 16 match, before losing to eventual finalists Germany 1-0 in the quarters.
Recently, the fortunes of the USMNT have fluctuated wildly. They suffered a dismal 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, where a 2-1 loss to Trinidad & Tobago in their final qualification game meant they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup – their first failure to qualify since the 1986 competition. They would also miss out on clinching the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup title, losing to Mexico 1-0 in Chicago. Nonetheless, the performances and fortunes of the USMNT have improved since the nadir of 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign. Firstly, they claimed the very first CONCACAF Nations League by beating Mexico 3-2 after extra time, before regaining the Gold Cup during the summer of 2021, again beating their southern rival after 120 minutes of play by a scoreline of 1-0. The 2021 triumph resulted in America earning themselves their 7th continental title in their history, making them the second most successful team in CONCACAF (after Mexico). They have qualified for the final stage of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, and are regarded one of the favourites to claim one of the three automatic spots in the eight-team group. Finally, they are scheduled to be one of the co-hosts for the expanded 2026 World Cup, and with a seemingly golden generation of American players currently progressing into the national team, there are strong hopes that this current (and future) batch of USMNT players could perhaps match or even surpass the fortunes of that trailblazing team of the 1930s.
For all of the potential of the USMNT, American soccer is dominated by the performances and results of the USWNT (United States Women’s National Team). They are unquestionably the most dominant force within women’s football, and have produced numerous world class players for the past three decades. The Stars & Stripes won the very first Women’s World Cup held in China in 1991 (beating Norway 2-1), which was regarded as an incredible achievement considering the USMNT had only played their very first official international match just six years prior to their World Cup victory, losing 1-0 to Italy in 1985. They have since won a further three titles; winning in 1999 (beating China PR 5-4 on penalties on home soil), in 2015 (defeating Japan 5-2 in Canada), and the most recent one held in 2019 (defeating the Netherlands 2-0 in France), to become the most successful nation in the history of the Women’s World Cup with four titles. The USWNT were World Cup finalists in Germany 2011 when they surprisingly lost to Japan on penalties after a 2-2 draw, and have finished in third place in the three World Cups they failed to reach the final in. In such a dominant display in international football, the USWNT have qualified for every World Cup, and reached at least the semi-finals, in every World Cup they have competed in.
- FIFA’s Film on the 2019 World Cup Final: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0DN0jQeb7E
In addition to the four World Cup victories, the USWNT have also picked up four Olympic gold medal victories in the football tournament since it was first organised in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, winning the gold in Atlanta, Athens (2004), Beijing (2008), and London (2012). In the most recent Olympics tournament held in Tokyo, they earned themselves a bronze medal after defeating Australia 4-3 in the bronze medal match – some consolation as they were considered one of the favourites for the gold prior to the tournament. Despite the disappointment of missing out on their fifth gold medal, they are still the number one ranked nation in the FIFA Women’s World Rankings, and since the rankings have been organised since 2003, the USWNT have never been ranked no lower than 2nd in the world, and ranked as the number one side for a combined total of 13 years. As of the time of writing, they are still the highest ranked side in the Women’s World Rankings, and will definitely be the overwhelming favourites to claim their fifth world title when the next Women’s World Cup is held in 2023.
To talk about the 7-time CONCACAF Gold Cup winners, and the current North American champions, we interviewed the excellent Ryan Walters from K League United. Ryan is an American multimedia journalist and football writer who is based in South Korea, and an avid supporter of both K League 2 side Jeonnam Dragons and MLS side Chicago Fire. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of K League United, an English language website reporting on the South Korean K League, as well as South Korean football in general. In addition, he is also Head of English Content that is produced for the K League’s official media outlets, and the Senior Content Manager for Backheel Media. To find his social media accounts, as well as those of K League United, follow the links below:
- Ryan’s Twitter: @MrRyanWalters
- KLU’s Twitter: @KLeagueUnited
- KLU’s Website: http://www.kleagueunited.com/
Adding their opinions on the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) and answering Gareth‘s questions is the excellent Hector Cano. San Antonio-based Hector is the founder and host of The 50/50 Podcast, a podcast that covers football at Texas HS, club and college, as well as being the Director of Soccer and Head Women’s Soccer Coach for the Saint Mary’s Hall Barons, and the Director of Soccer for College Promoters USA. To find his and The 50/50 Pod‘s social media accounts, follow the links below:
- Hector’s Twitter: @CoachHCano
- 50/50 Pod’s Twitter: @50_50Pod
- 50/50 Pod’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/50_50podcast/
You can also read the interview Hector did with Gareth as part of Gareth’s ‘Player Profile‘ series on his blogsite HERE.
Adding their opinions on the US Women’s National Team (USWNT) and answering Gareth‘s questions is the excellent Skylar Skelton. She is an Arizona-based young football player, who is currently playing for the local LHS Peoria side as a forward. To find her social media accounts, follow the links below:
- Twitter: @SkylarSkelton
You can also read the interview Skylar did with Gareth as part of Gareth’s ‘Player Profile‘ series on his blogsite HERE.
KEY: RW = Ryan Walters; HC = Hector Cano; SS = Skylar Skelton
Q. Who would you say is the United States’ best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
RW: It’s hard to argue against Abby Wambach [forward who earned 255 caps for the US between 2001 and 2015]. She held the international goal scoring record for ages [scoring 184 goals] before Christine Sinclair took it from her recently [Canadian striker who has scored 187 goals at time of writing], and was just a champion through and through. World Cup champion, Olympic gold medalist, 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year, and six time US Soccer Player of the Year, she really did it all.
Personally, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Landon Donovan [winger/forward who scored a joint-USMNT record 57 goals in 157 appearances for the national team] on the men’s side of things. His goal against Algeria in 2010 lit a fire under soccer (feel like I have to use sokkah instead of football for this piece, hate away haters!) supporters in the US in a way nothing else had. He also chose to spend the majority of his career in MLS and help develop the domestic league while proving on loan at places like Everton that he had it in him to perform at the highest level.
I’m not 100% sure I can claim a best all time manager. Bruce Arena [who managed the USMNT between 1998 and 2006, had a second spell from 2016 to 2017] did a great job at the turn of the century, but was also in charge when we failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2017… so I’ll just leave it there.
HC: I would say the country’s best player may be regarded as Landon Donovan, but perhaps the most decorated with best resume may be Clint Dempsey [midfield or forward who played for the USMNT between 2004 and 2017 earning 141 caps and scoring a joint-USMNT record 57 goals]. The most talented ever is considered by many to be Tab Ramos [midfielder who earned 81 caps and scored 8 goals for the USMNT between 1988 and 2000]. Bruce Arena is considered by many the best manager because of his level of success and experience and having coached the USMNT during the greatest run, which was a quarter-final berth in the 2002 World Cup.
SS: I would say the best player was Abby Wambach or Carli Lloyd [39-year-old midfielder/forward who currently plays for NY/NJ Gotham FC and has earned 314 caps and scored 134 goals, at the time of writing, since her debut in 2005]. They were smart on and off the ball and raised the level of play of all the players around them. Carli Lloyd has shown in recent games that even though she has made the decision to retire she still remains one of the best and won’t play anything but her best for her final games. As for managers, I think Jill Ellis [USWNT manager from 2014 to 2019] was the United States’ best, she has an impressive coaching resume, and has led the USWNT to many World Cups and Olympics.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the American national team both in the past and present?
HC: Cult hero, may very well be Clint Dempsey for a number of reasons, but also because he had such a very different rise through the ranks than most. He came up playing in the old man Sunday Mexican leagues of Nacogdoches, Texas. A far cry from the traditional method and it had a tremendous impact on his game.
SS: Mia Hamm [world-class forward who scored 158 goals in 276 games between 1987 and 2004] is very well known in the women’s soccer industry. As a little kid, she was the person many of us youngsters looked up to. She’s known as a soccer icon [was one of only two female footballers named in Pelé’s FIFA 100] and a great example for young soccer players to look up to.
RW: Clint Mathis. Mohawked striker [who played 46 times for the USMNT and scored 16 goals] who took shit from absolutely no one and had the typical striker’s swagger in the best possible ways.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player in the national side currently?
SS: Currently, I think Carli Lloyd has shown her insane work ethic, from losing her starting spot, to working hard to getting it back, and then, in one of the more recent games, scoring five goals against Paraguay [in a 9-0 victory played on 16th September] showing that, although she’s about to retire, she will go out with nothing but a bang.
RW: For the first time in my fandom, we actually have a decent number of players at some of the very best clubs in the world. Christian Pulisic [22-year-old attacking midfielder] obviously deserves plaudits for everything he’s doing at Chelsea, but I’m a Weston McKennie [23-year-old midfielder currently at Juventus] stan. I love a box-to-box midfielder who does the dirty work, but also has the ability to help drive things forward.
HC: The best player on the current USMNT is widely regarded as Christian Pulisic. From starting and scoring in a World Cup Qualifier at 17 years of age, to playing for some of the top clubs in Europe, including Borussia Dortmund and currently, Chelsea.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
HC: There is a lot of current buzz around the USMNT as they have never had this much talent and so young. Many people believe it is the possible beginning of an American ‘Golden Generation‘. This summer provided a lot of excitement as an extremely young group wont the CONCACAF Nations League, defeating Mexico in dramatic fashion, and then beating them once again six weeks later in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Two big victories and trophies for the USMNT in six weeks over Mexico after having lost 13 straight to the Mexicans and bitter CONCACAF rivals. They are now three games into World Cup Qualifying, with a starting lineup that averages around the age of 23.
RW: The performances still have a little ways to go and I’m not entirely sure the team has a firm grasp on what Gregg Berhalter [head coach since 2018] wants from them yet – his system is much easier to integrate at club level with far more frequent matches – but the state of things is fantastic. We were just crowned CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup Champions and quite deservedly so. Beating Mexico in a final will always feel fantastic [beating them 3-2 in the Nations League final, and 1-0 in the Gold Cup final, both after extra time], but the main takeaway from the Nations League for me was the mental shift within the team that’s evident on the field.
They don’t always play the most attractive football, and they don’t win in the most convincing fashion every time out, but winning is a habit this team is starting to pick up regardless of how they get it done. Bodes quite well for World Cup Qualifying and hopefully Qatar 2022.
SS: I think that since the 2019 World Cup and change of management [appointing the Macedonian-American coach Vlatko Andonovski to replace Jill Ellis after the 2019 World Cup] the USWNT has struggled. They went into the 2020 Olympics as the best team in the world and came out of it very disappointed in their performance. They have always been very much ahead of the other countries in world football, but now everyone’s starting to catch up to them and it’s a major adjustment that the USWNT needs to make if they’re to continue to be the best team in the world.
Q. Are there any American players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
RW: He’s not exactly super young by modern standards, but I think 21-year-old striker Daryl Dike showed a lot of folks what he could do in his time at Barnsley. He’s back with Orlando City now after the two sides couldn’t formalise a deal, but I suspect if he has as strong of a season domestically as he did in England, he’ll be back overseas soon. (This is also to please regular K League United Podcast co-host Peter Hampshire and give Barnsley a shout out.)
I think Sergiño Dest [20-year-old full-back currently at FC Barcelona] is already on plenty of folks’ radars, but he’s another exciting young prospect. I’ll stop faffing and say Venezia’s Gianluca Busio [19-year-old midfielder] is one to watch. He excelled in MLS this season [with Sporting Kansas City] as a false nine, attacking midfielder, box-to-box, and in a defensive midfield role. I think challenging himself at a higher level will either help solidify one of those positions for him, or maybe see him continue to be used as a utility player. Regardless, he’s fun to watch already!
SS: Sophia Smith [21-year-old forward currently playing for Portland Thorns] is definitely going to be a big part of the future of this USWNT. She’s recently just scored her first international goal in the second game against Paraguay in September [winning 8-0]. Her name has been heard for multiple years but she’s just getting her chance with the national team. I think she is proving her skill and ability, and the future looks amazing for this talented player.
HC: Without a doubt, Ricardo Pepi. Pepi, a first generation Mexican-American from El Paso, Texas and a current striker for FC Dallas of MLS has the potential to be a gamechanger for the USMNT and could be the future face and provide an inside look at what the U.S. Soccer Federation has largely overlooked…the massive Mexican-American and Latino influence in the United States of America. As of this time of writing this article, Pepi has his international debut for the USMNT on Wednesday, September 8, 2021, versus Honduras (In Honduras). Pepi played a massive role in the match as he was involved in all four plays that led to a 4-1 victory. He finished the match with a goal and two assists; winning Man of the Match honors. All at the age of 18 and becoming the second youngest American to ever score for the USMNT.
Q. Looking at the United States’ international history, what would you say has been the best game, result, or performance for the national team in your opinion?
SS: I believe the US versus Thailand game in the most recent World Cup was the most dominant that I’ve ever seen the USWNT. They were criticized majorly for winning 13-0 but I believe they did everything right. They went out there with the mindset that they were going to win the World Cup and nothing was going to stand in their way. If the other team can’t defensively keep up, then that is not the USWNT’s fault and they shouldn’t drop their level of play because of Thailand’s lack of defensive ability. It set the tone for the World Cup and the USWNT’s attitude, and it showed all other opponents that the USWNT has no mercy and they are going to play at the best possible level they can.
HC: It’s hard to aruge against the multiple 2-0 (“Dos a Cero”) victories the U.S. had versus Mexico in multiple World Cup qualifiers, but perhaps there are three major milestone victories that are considered historic and will forever live in the heart of U.S. supporters everywhere:
- June 1994, Pasadena, California, USA: USMNT defeated highly ranked, heavily favored, and World Cup contender, Colombia. 2-1, in the Group Stage of the 1994 FIFA World Cup. The stage was set for this historic upset before 90+ thousand people as it was also the first ever World Cup hosted in the United States. With football largely in it’s renewed infancy in the United States.
- June 2009, South Africa: USMNT defeats defending European Champion Spain, 2-0, in the semifinals of the FIFA Confederations Cup. The victory also proved to be historic as the USMNT snapped Spain’s 34-match international unbeaten streak; a record that stood until just this month when it was broken by Italy.
- June 2002, Jeonju, South Korea: The USMNT defeated bitter CONCACF rival, Mexico by the score of, you guessed it, 2-0 or “Dos a Cero,” at the 2002 World Cup. The victory propelled the Americans to their deepest World Cup run in the modern era as they advanced to the quarterfinals before bowing out to eventual runners-up Germany, 1-0.
RW: 2-0 win against Mexico in the 2002 World Cup. The birth of “Dos A Cero” (“two nil” for our non Spanish speakers), the win propelled us to the Quarter-Finals where it could be argued we should’ve beaten Germany (the one time I would’ve liked VAR). Anyway, as for the match itself, it was a statement of intent for us as a nation that we had finally arrived on the international stage and Mexico wouldn’t be able to boss us at home any more either.
- FIFA’s Highlights of USA vs. Mexico at the 2002 World Cup: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvgNRRE5HOo
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
RW: Yeah… losing to Trinidad and Tobago 2-1 and failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. I… do not want to talk about it!
HC: Without a doubt, October 10, 2017, Couva, Trinidad & Tobago: The Americans fell to Trinidad & Tobago on the final day of the World Cup Qualifying cycle, failing to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1986.
SS: In the first group game of the 2020 Olympics, the USWNT played Sweden and lost 3-0. This game showed all the flaws and weaknesses of this national team and really set the tone of the Olympics. Although they finished the tournament with the bronze medal [beating Australia 4-3], they did not play like the USWNT we all know. It was very disappointing to see such an amazing team, with insanely talented players, play the way they did throughout this tournament.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the American national team?
HC: Hope and Faith are the best at being part of a largely young and still developing base of supporters. This inferiority complex that exists amongst many supporters because we are Americans. Many feel the need to justify or explain their reasoning for being a football fan altogether and/or a supporter of the USMNT. It’s come a long way, but it still exists.
SS: The best thing is this team is extremely dominant, and I believe we have a full roster of the best players in the world. As a young player watching this team and their dynamic, it can be such a great learning experience for these younger players wanting to learn more. The worst thing would be watching how they let the politics get so involved.
RW: One of the best parts for me growing up is actually starting to change a bit, and that’s being underdogs. We’ve almost always had to be scrappy, work hard, and take advantage of set pieces to win games, and I absolutely love every time the US beats a nation they’re not expected to. As an American covering the sport abroad, I’m well aware of what the opinion of us is in more circles and it’s amazingly gratifying to see the national team shut those folks up.
The worst is easily our lack of chants. That may not seem like much, but it shows a lack of supporter culture for a nation that actually has a very long history in the sport. I flat out refuse to do the U-S-A chant while at games, and I swear to all the football gods, old and new, if we don’t come up with something better than “I Believe” soon, I’ll write the song my self.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
SS: You will commonly see the USWNT players post game day posts with “LFG” showing their mentality and excitement for the upcoming game. Another chant that you will hear is “I believe that we will win”.
RW: I’ve lived abroad for the better part of the last decade, so I’m hoping there’s something there now. Honestly don’t know.
HC: Still TBD (Hahaha). For God’s sake, no more “I, I believe. I believe that we will win”!!!
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
HC: My personal favorite to this day is the USSF Centennial jersey that was used in 2013 to commemorate 100 years of U.S. Soccer.
RW: Oh my yes. The 2010 World Cup kit that’s navy blue with a white sash. I’m delighted to have it in my closet and would love if that was just our standard template moving forward. That and I have a soft spot for the “Waldo” kit.
SS: I have a Julie Johnston [29-year-old midfielder currently playing for Chicago Red Stars, and having earned 116 caps with 20 goals (at time of writing) since 2013] scored jersey which is special to me as it shows how long I’ve followed this team because she’s now married and wears the surname of Ertz on the back of her jersey.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the American national team?
RW: Things are honestly farther along and in a much better state on the men’s side of things than I could have expected at this point. We’re still in the beginning stages of qualifying for Qatar 2022, so my first hope is to just get back into the World Cup.
Further down the line, like… oh… say 2026, I’d love to see us go full Ted Lasso and win the whole f**kin’ thing!
SS: I hope that going into the next few tournaments the USWNT can find their rhythm and play like the team we all know and love. They have the talent, there’s no doubt, but they just need to go back to the basics by finding the simple pass and finishing their opportunities. I’m excited to see what the future holds with this team.
HC: I personally believe that the future is bright for the sport and for the USMNT in this country. The current crop of young talent is being groomed for 2026, where the overwhelming majority of the current talent will be entering their prime. I believe the 2026 FIFA World Cup will provide the next springboard needed for this sport; developmentally, economically, and socially. While I cannot say with any true confidence that we will ever win a World Cup in my lifetime, I firmly believe that we will rise to the level of a respectable contender within my lifetime. Ironically, we just need the federation to develop more of an inclusive and less of an exclusive mindset within all the great talent within our country.
A massive thank you very much to the superb Ryan from K League United, Coach Cano from The 50/50 Podcast, and Skylar Skelton for answering our questions on the Stars and Stripes. Remember you can find their excellent social media accounts, podcasts, and websites in the links at the top of the blogpage.
If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at email@example.com, or send a message to @Gareth19801 or the editor at @The94thMin on Twitter.