CREDIT: John Raoux/AP
The United States Men’s National Team lost to Belgium in the World Cup’s round of 16 Tuesday evening, but not before they took the country on a wild ride that further grew the nation’s passion for soccer. The match against Portugal drew the largest television audience in American soccer history; another 25 million or so watched the tilt with Belgium.
Since the U.S. went out of the tournament, though, several people who fell in love with this team — and their sport — have asked me how they can continue to watch it and enjoy it, whether it’s by following the national team or its players, watching domestic league soccer in the United States or Europe, or simply learning about the game. So here’s a short guide for how you can continue to enjoy the game even though the Americans’ run is over.
Keep Watching The World Cup!
Sure, the Americans are out, but the World Cup isn’t over yet. In fact, this weekend’s quarterfinal matches could provide some of the most compelling games of the entire tournament. Brazil and Colombia face off Friday, as do France and Germany. Argentina takes on dark horse Belgium and Costa Rica tries to keep its Cinderella run going against The Netherlands on Saturday.
The rest of the World Cup could give us even more interesting match-ups — imagine an Argentina-Brazil final played in South America, or the sight of Brazil lifting the Cup and avenging their home soil loss from the last time they hosted in 1950. And my colleagues Jess Goldstein and Adam Peck put together this fun chart to help you choose a team to cheer for, so now there’s no excuse not to keep watching.
Plus, while the soccer has been excellent, there remain several important issues that are related to the World Cup that need our attention, from how it is affecting Brazil’s economy and its poorest citizens to the security policies around it.
Get Ready For The Women’s World Cup
You don’t have to wait for the men to see another American team in a World Cup. The Women’s World Cup is now less than a year away, and the United States Women’s National Team will travel to Canada as one of the favorites to win it all. It was the women, not the men, who provided the first real breakthrough moment for soccer in the U.S., when Brandi Chastain scored a penalty kick to win the 1999 World Cup and ripped off her shirt. The USWNT hasn’t won again since, but they have plenty of talent in place to do so. Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux are amazing scorers, and this will almost certainly be the last opportunity at World Cup glory for Abby Wambach, the all-time leading goal scorer in American soccer history.
The last Women’s World Cup provided no shortage of thrillers, from Wambach’s stoppage time goal to save the U.S. against Brazil to the USWNT’s penalty kicks loss to Japan in the final. With the gap between the Americans and the rest of the world’s women’s teams closing, this one should be no different. It starts on June 6.
Gear Up For Club Season
Once the World Cup ends, we’ll be less than a month from the start of the European club season and nearing the homestretch of Major League Soccer’s season. MLS, you might have heard, is a growing league — its average attendance now surpasses that of both the NBA and NHL — and while its on-field quality isn’t necessarily on par with the top European leagues in England, Germany, Italy, Spain, or France, that doesn’t mean there isn’t entertaining soccer played there. Plus, MLS is home to some of the USMNT’s stars, from Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle) to Graham Zusi (Kansas City) to Michael Bradley (Toronto) and plenty more. Seattle and Portland offer two of the most unique sporting experiences in the country at home matches, and across the league, there are plenty of nice stadiums to go visit. If you don’t live in an MLS town, check out teams in the lower leagues — the NASL or USL Pro — or find MLS on TV, which is about to get even easier: the league just signed a new TV deal with ESPN and Fox that will put more games on TV next season. You can also find your local women’s team in the National Women’s Soccer League, which features some of the biggest names from both the American national team and others around the world.
If you are in an MLS city, you might look up the supporters groups for various teams, like D.C. United’s Barra Brava or Portland’s Timbers Army, if you’re interested in really buying into the local team.
If the European game is more your style, that’s only getting easier to watch too. NBC and NBC Sports Network now feature the English Premier League on Saturday and Sunday mornings (starting August 16), and the coverage is great. You can find the Champions League — the tournament featuring the top teams from each European league — on Fox once it starts this fall. Networks like beIN Sports carry matches from Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A, and Mexican and South American leagues are often on various Spanish-language channels. You can figure out a club to follow — there are guides online, or you can just find one you like to watch — or simply follow the bevy of American players now playing in Europe, including, in England alone, the USMNT’s Tim Howard (Everton), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Jozy Altidore (Sunderland) and Geoff Cameron (Stoke City).
Read About It
There is plenty of good literature out there about soccer. You can start with Franklin Foer’s “How Soccer Explains The World,” which is a compact, chapter-by-chapter look at the cultural influence of soccer in various countries and societies. For a more in-depth read, there’s David Goldblatt’s “The Ball Is Round: A Global History of Soccer,” which goes deep into how soccer developed in different countries and influenced and was influenced by the world around it.
For pure fan enjoyment, there’s Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch,” about falling in desperate love with a club team. And if you want a more advanced look at the development of different tactics, there’s “Inverting The Pyramid” by Jonathan Wilson, who looks at how soccer spread to different countries and how different societies and cultures chose to play the game in different ways. There’s also “The Numbers Game,” which is a look at advanced soccer statistics and strategies. Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski’s “Soccernomics” examines all sorts of aspects of the game, from the economics of the sport to statistical factors at play in it. Robert Andrew Powell’s “This Love Is Not For Cowards,” meanwhile, is another read about how soccer fits into the larger culture around it, focusing on Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
For day-to-day news, there’s plenty of that too. Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl is a must-follow for all things soccer, as is Sam Borden of the New York Times. In ESPNFC, the Worldwide Leader now has a dedicated soccer page. And there are tons of excellent team-specific soccer blogs, podcasts, and Twitter lists out there for hardcore and casual fans alike.
Keep Following The USMNT, And Prepare For Russia
The World Cup only comes around every four years, but the preparations for the next one begin as soon as the last one ends. And over the next four years, the United States will develop new players to join those returning from this team in an effort to get ready for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Along the way, they’ll play numerous international friendly matches and several high-profile international tournaments.
First, there’s the 2015 Gold Cup, the tournament among teams in CONCACAF, the Americans’ qualifying region. The Gold Cup is held every two years, and Mexico and the U.S. are traditional favorites, though Costa Rica will surely make this a legitimate three-horse race. The Gold Cup isn’t the greatest soccer tournament ever, but it’s still our regional championship, and at the very least it promises to give fans an early glimpse at players who could help shape the next World Cup roster.
The potentially huge event is the 2016 Copa America. The Copa is traditionally a championship for South American teams, but at least this once to mark the tournament’s 100th anniversary, it is combining the best teams from both North and South America, essentially making it a World Cup of the Western Hemisphere. The best part: the United States is hosting, which means Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and other top South American teams will be coming north and touring around the U.S. This Copa won’t have any international significance, but bringing those teams to the U.S. will still be fun.
There’s also an Olympics in 2016, where the U.S. will try to return after whiffing on the 2012 London games. Olympic soccer is different, with rosters comprised mostly of younger players, but it could provide a glimpse at up-and-coming American talent that might feature in Russia two years later.
There’s another Gold Cup in 2017. The winners of the 2015 and 2017 Gold Cups will meet in a playoff to determine who travels to the Confederations Cup, the World Cup tune-up where the U.S. notched one of its biggest-ever wins (over Spain) in 2009. At the same time, the U.S. should be moving into the final stages of World Cup qualifying throughout 2017, meaning we’ll be nearing a return to the ultimate stage.
Find A Soccer Bar
Did you see all those videos from when John Brooks scored? Or when Clint Dempsey found the net? Or from any other time during the World Cup? It’s not always like that during club or international matches, but still, finding the right bar to watch soccer with fans of the the same club can make it more fun. That shouldn’t be hard: in most cities, big European teams have fan groups that organize watch parties or at least a local bar that’s friendly to a particular team, and it’s the same for MLS teams. You don’t need a good bar to watch soccer, of course, but for the first time this year that’s how I started watching English soccer on some weekend mornings, and it’s definitely a great experience.
Just Enjoy It
You don’t have to become one of Those Soccer Fans to love this sport. You don’t have to engage in fruitless debates about whether Americans are ever going to fully adopt the sport. You don’t have to start talking like a Brit or using words you’d never use otherwise, though you’re certainly welcome to. All you really need to do is enjoy it as you would any other sport, and if you do feel like engaging in a debate, let’s talk about how we can make the sport safer for players from the pros to youth lagues, or how we can keep developing a sustainable women’s league in the U.S. The next chance to see the USMNT play in a World Cup is four years away, but there will be plenty of excellent soccer to watch between now and then. So just have a good time.