“Football is coming home,” they sing, to the tune of the Skinner and Baddiel classic.

It’s a favorite chant of American fans before the World Cup showdown, who poke fun at their English opponents.

We heard it from the crowd watching the University of Maryland take on Fairleigh Dickinson University.

The gag is, of course, the substitution of the word “football” for “soccer” – for UK listeners, it’s a lyric that could have only been written with a fingernail on a blackboard.

As far as fans’ conclusions go, it’s at the benign end of the scale, a far cry from the friction of the terracing in the dirt where the game started. Some cultural traditions, it seems, take longer to transfer.

American soccer is soccer, but not quite as we know it in the UK, certainly not as we speak it.

It’s where the players ‘spin and burn’, wear ‘cleats’ on their feet, not boots; take “PKs”, not penalties and, yes, take liberties with the very name of the game.

From fallen to contenders

However you say it, the USA men’s team has come a long way. They are cadet boys and contenders in a sport America has discovered late.

As the game has grown around the world, it has fought for space in a crowded sports market, squeezed by American football, baseball, basketball, and others.

American male soccer players have long been in the shadow of the country’s women’s team. They are a sports superpower and serial World Cup winners (a record four times).

The women’s game reaped the benefits of a college system that was attracting many of the country’s top female athletes to soccer scholarships, while their men’s counterparts leaned toward more traditional U.S. sports.

The US Soccer Hall of Fame at FC Dallas
The US Soccer Hall of Fame at FC Dallas

FC Dallas’ US Soccer Hall of Fame hosts a show reminiscent of the 1950 World Cup match when the American men famously defeated England 1-0.

It was such a shock that they made a movie out of it: The Miracle Match. Seventy-two years later, there would be nothing miraculous about a United States victory over England in Qatar.

Read more:
Who expects to win the World Cup?

The US women's team is a perennial winner
The US women’s team is a perennial winner

Men’s football has “taken off”

After a journey on stilts to an established soccer facility, the USA men’s team was ranked 16th in the world.

FC Dallas chairman and president Dan Hunt spoke to Sky News about how the men’s game has grown, nationally.

He said: “The success of American soccer really dates back to 1994. Having the World Cup here in the United States has kickstarted a new generation of players on the men’s team.

“Women’s football has already been successful and doing well, but the enthusiasm and energy they brought started football in this country.

“It was a story of hiccups and starts and stops. You look at the big win against England in 1950, which was a landmark, and then we were basically in the dark for 40 years, between 1950 and 1990.

Maryland fans are confident that their country's team will have a good World Cup
Maryland fans are confident that their country’s team will have a good World Cup

“The old NASL (North America Soccer League) has come and gone. The promise we had to make as a nation was to create a professional first division league, and that is what gave birth to MLS (Major League Soccer ).

“The early years of MLS were incredibly difficult but, for me, the most pivotal moment was the 2002 World Cup where the US team did really well with a number of MLS players.

“Some had already gone overseas and had success in Europe, but that was really the foundation because, just a year before, MLS had talked about going out of business and that was the little momentum we needed.

“Since then, MLS has really taken off.”

Read more:
USA and Wales share points in World Cup opener

November 21, 2022;  Al Rayyan, Qatar;  United States of America forward Timothy Weah (21) reacts after scoring a goal against Wales during the first half during a group stage match during the 2022 FIFA World Cup at the Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sport
Timothy Weah earned the USA a point in their opening match against Wales. Pic: USA TODAY Sports

While football club academies in America have increasingly become a feeder to the sport’s highest level, the college system still provides a path to professional play.

The University of Maryland is a powerful talent pipeline: graduates of its scholarship program have played in the last five World Cups.

Sasho Cirovski is the varsity coach, whose career has spanned decades of growth in the American game.

Sasho Cirovski
Sasho Cirovski says soccer has come a long way in the United States

He told Sky News: “The American university system is unique around the world. It’s the only place in the world where you can combine top-notch academics with world-class football in a residential environment with extraordinary facilities.

“You’re ready to deal with being away from home, you’re ready to deal with performance expectations.

“You’re scrutinized by the media, you’re challenged by coaches, and you’re surrounded by players who also want to be top-level pros and win championships. So when you have that kind of support network that you can grow into, and you can blossom into, it allows players to make their dreams come true.

“We have the great advantage in this country of being able to watch, experience and learn from other sports. There is a character and a competitiveness in the American athlete: a winning mentality, a tenacity that is nurtured in different sports.

“For a long time, we had to learn from watching the Bundesliga or the English Premier League – now we can see it in our own country. But we can also see it from other sports, so there’s a huge range of learning around you that really shows you what’s there. wants to be great”.

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