A photo of the 2022 World Cup U.S. men’s team. They lost to the Netherlands in the round of 16. Photo via Creative Commons.

The 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup ended with a bang in an action packed championship game. Argentina emerged victorious, after beating France in a decisive penalty shoot-out. Over 25 million Americans tuned in to watch the game, even though the United States Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNST) had been eliminated in the round of 16 after a 3-1 loss to the Netherlands. Despite the early exit from the tournament, many USMNST fans still viewed this World Cup as a victory. After the team failed to qualify for the last World Cup in 2018, advancing to the knockout stage was a huge improvement.

The USMNST faced off against Wales, England, and Iran in the group stage. After tying with Wales 1-1, tying with England 0-0, and beating Iran 1-0, the U.S. advanced to the knockout stage with 5 points as the second team in their group, behind England. 

Despite this early departure from the World Cup, most fans were not disappointed by the USMNST’s performance. Cal Birmingham, a varsity soccer player at Franklin stated, “I’m glad they got out of the group stage. I would have expected them to advance further. But I understand it’s a young team.” The average age of the U.S. team at the World Cup was 25.2 years old, which made it the second youngest team at the competition. Birmingham hopes that the U.S. team will continue to improve for the next World Cup in 2026, once they have matured and have adjusted their play-style. As Birmingham stated, “there’s no excuse for the [U.S. team] not to [get past the group stage] […] I also would like to see [the U.S. team] advance maybe a few more rounds in instead of getting knocked out in that first elimination stage.” 

One improvement the U.S. team will need to make if they wish to advance further into the tournament next year is working on creating possessions that yield results. This year, although the USMNST held possession of the ball for the majority of all of their games, they were unable to capitalize on that possession, taking few shots at the goal and scoring only two goals during the group stage. 

During their knockout loss against the Netherlands, Birmingham stated that the USMNST “dominated the stat sheet [and] had [more] possession, but the Netherlands actually had meaningful possession, which is the difference between the two [teams]. We would hold onto the ball and kind of just mess around with it.” Birmingham further observed that “there were times when they would just reset the game by just holding onto [the ball] and not necessarily try to go anywhere with it, instead of actively trying to advance the ball up the field.” For the next World Cup, if the USMNST wishes to advance further, they will have to adjust their strategy to be more aggressive on offense. 

One positive thing that came from the USMNT’s World Cup appearance was that it increased the popularity of soccer in the U.S.. Soccer is by far the most popular sport internationally and the World Cup is the most-watched sporting event globally. For many other countries, soccer is a huge part of the culture, which is not the case in the U.S.. According to Statista, an online platform specialized in market and consumer data, soccer is the sixth most popular sport in the U.S., behind American football, basketball, baseball, boxing, and ice hockey. However, soccer’s popularity is growing rapidly in the U.S. and millions of Americans followed the USMNST during this year’s World Cup.

“In all these Olympic events, the United States is always a top contender, but there [has] historically been this lack of appreciation for soccer. Hopefully, this World Cup turns that around,” stated Birmingham. The 2026 World Cup is set to be hosted by Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., which Birmingham speculates will help bring an “increase in excitement towards soccer [in the U.S.]. Hopefully, soccer gets a little bit more love [in the U.S.] because it is a great sport.”

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