“Football is coming home,” they sing to the classic Skinner and Baddiel tune.
It was the rallying cry chosen by American fans to poke fun at their English opponents ahead of the World Cup final.
We heard it from the crowd watching Maryland vs. Fairleigh Dickinson.
The gimmick, of course, was substituting the word “football” for “football” – for a British audience, it was a lyric that could only be written on a chalkboard with your fingernails.
As the backers wind down, it’s at the benign end, a far cry from the country’s ladder attrition where the game started. It seems that some cultural traditions take longer to transfer.
American football is football, but not quite as we know it in the UK, and certainly not as we speak of it.
This is where the player “turns and burns”, wearing “cleats” instead of boots; taking “PK”, not punishment, yes, use the name of the game as you like.
From loser to contender
Say what you will, the U.S. men’s team has come a long way. They were underdogs and competitors in a sport that America discovered late.
As the sport has grown globally, it has struggled in a crowded sports market, crowded out by American football, baseball, basketball, and more.
U.S. men’s soccer players have long been in the shadow of the country’s women’s soccer team. They are a sports superpower and consecutive World Cup winners (a record four times).
The women’s game benefits from the collegiate system, which attracts many of the country’s best female athletes to soccer scholarships, while their male counterparts gravitate toward more traditional American sports.
The American Soccer Hall of Fame at the FC Dallas hosts an exhibit reminiscent of the 1950 World Cup match, when the United States beat England 1-0.
Shockingly enough, they made it into a movie: The Miracle Match. Seventy-two years on, the United States’ victory over England in Qatar is no miracle.
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Men’s soccer has ‘taken off’
The US men’s team is ranked 16th in the world after a difficult journey towards an established football setup.
FC Dallas president and chairman Dan Hunter spoke to Sky News about the development of men’s football domestically.
He said: “The success of American football can really be traced back to 1994. The World Cup in the US started a new generation of men’s soccer players.
“The women’s game has been a success and is doing well, but the excitement and energy that it brings kicks football off the ground again in this country.
“It’s a history of fits and starts. You look at the big win against England in 1950, that’s a point of reference, and then we’re basically in the dark for 40 years between 1950 and 1990.
“The old NASL (North American Soccer League) came and went. The commitment we had to make as a country was to create a first-division professional league, and that’s what brought the MLS (Major League Soccer) to life.
“The early days in MLS were very difficult, but the biggest moment for me was the 2002 World Cup, when the U.S. team did really well with a lot of MLS players.
“Some people have gone abroad and been successful in Europe, but that’s really the foundation because just a year ago MLS was talking about going out of business, and that’s a little bit of momentum we need.
“From then on, Major League Soccer really took off.”
USA and Wales share points in World Cup opener
While America’s football club academies have increasingly become the sport’s highest-level feeder, the academy system still provides access to professional play.
The University of Maryland is a strong pipeline of talent — graduates of its scholarship program have participated in the past five World Cups.
Sasho Cirovski is the university’s coach whose career has spanned decades in the development of American football.
He told Sky News: “The US university system is unique in the whole world. It’s the only place in the world where you can combine high-level academics with high-level football in a residential setting with lots of facilities.
“You’re ready to be away from home, you’re ready to deal with performance expectations.
“You get the attention of the media, you get challenged by the coaches, you’re surrounded by players who want to be professional at a high level and win titles. So when you have that kind of support network that can grow, you can blossom, it can Let players realize their dreams.
“We have a great advantage in this country to watch, experience and learn from other sports. American athletes have a character and a competitiveness — a winning mentality, a resilience that’s bred in different sports.
“For a long time we had to learn from watching the Bundesliga or the Premier League – now we can see it in our own country. But we can also see it from other sports, so you have all kinds of football around you. Learning, really showing you what it takes to be great.”