American Soccer Invasion

Whether it be the pull of financial success, the opportunity to play amongst the best of the best, or most recently, because of the coronavirus pandemic, many of America’s premier soccer players are taking their talents overseas…

by: Jenn Birks

When assessing the popularity of sports in America, the National Football League and Major League Baseball reign supreme. With fan support that verges on an obsession for some, and a near constant barrage of media coverage, analysis and discussion, football and “America’s pastime” are an unstoppable duo, and that doesn’t look like it’ll change anytime soon. However, soccer, the most popular sport in the world, is starting to gather momentum in the United States, especially after the FIFA World Cup victory by the U.S. Women’s National Team in 2019. 

Soccer in America has never fully taken off, even when the likes of the legendary Brazilian star Pele brought his unfathomable talents stateside. In fact, even famed English professional footballer David Beckham, upon his move to the LA Galaxy, failed to spark notable interest. The term “soccer mom” doesn’t do the sport any favors in America either, where the game is often viewed as a typical middle class pastime. That in itself is odd when assessing how soccer is thought of in other parts of the world, with many people in England, for example, viewing it as a passionately working class game, played on muddy soccer pitches in the cold wintery months. 

Despite some of the negative connotations associated with American soccer in the past, it is surely gaining ground and it is now the fourth most popular sport in the United States (behind football, baseball, and basketball) and is the second fastest growing sport in America, surpassed only by lacrosse. Notable players like star U.S. Women’s National Team player and Olympic gold medalist Megan Rapinoe, and her fiery brand of play on the pitch and crafty social activism off the pitch are doing a fine job of shining a light on the sport and inspiring the next generation of players. Beyond the obviousness of its appeal in regards to the aesthetically pleasing gameplay, and the extreme athleticism of the players throughout the world, soccer provides so much more to communities. Soccer is a sport ideal for keeping children fit and healthy, plus it gives parents a chance to cheer on their offspring and build community, getting people of all ages outdoors and providing a breather from television, social media or spending time on one of the most popular gaming websites. But while the enthusiasm for the game continues to import into the United States, it’s exciting to consider the numerous players from America that exported their talents to Europe in the past. With that in mind, here’s a look at a trio of American soccer players who made a name for themselves across the pond.

DaMarcus Beasley

DeMarcus Beasely, the only U.S. man to play in four FIFA World Cups, his first in 2002 and his latest in 2014, is the highest-scoring American in Champions League history and the youngest player to sign a Major League Soccer contract at the age of 16. The fast winger played for the likes of Dutch giants PSV, English powerhouses Manchester City and one of the biggest clubs in Scotland, Rangers, which isn’t bad for a boy hailing from Indiana. With a powerful left foot, lightning-quick speed and intelligent defensive play, LegenDMB as he is known, has certainly done it all in soccer, carving out a place for himself in every league he played and becoming a key player on each team. Having recently retired from the sport, Beasley is planning his next move, which surely will involve continuing to add his clever mind and keen instincts to the sport of soccer. 

Jay DeMerit

Jay DeMerit’s impact on English football is quite remarkable, given the story behind his rise. After leaving the U.S. undrafted by Major League Soccer and with no soccer prospects in the country, the central defender made the journey to England in the hopes of realizing his dream of playing soccer professionally in the biggest league in the United Kingdom. Amazingly, the former American superstar was snapped up by a non-league side in the shape of Southall and then Northwood, only to catch the eye of professional outfit Watford. The rest, as they say, is history as DeMerit went on to play in the highly-respected English Premier League and the 2010 World Cup. His rise from the ninth-tier of soccer in England to the English Premier League and then on to the World Cup is certainly meteoric in nature, and a testament to his determination, dedication to practice and perseverance in the face of adversity. 

Carlos Bocanegra

Another defender and former captain of the USMNT, Carlos Bocanegra had a solid career representing the likes of Fulham in England, before playing in France for St. Etienne and Rennes, and then winding things down in Scotland with Rangers and then back home to retire with Chivas USA. He made a name for himself in the U.S., becoming the first player to win Defender of the Year in the MLS twice during his four years playing professionally in America. 2004 saw him join the English Premier League team Fulham, where he earned the nickname the Jackal from his adoring fans. He was successful across numerous teams in Europe, playing professionally for 15 years, including over 200 game appearances and holding the record for most international goals scored by a U.S. defender. These days, Bocanegra is hoping to pass on some of his expertise while in the role of technical director and vice president for Atlanta United Football Club. 

Today, there is an unprecedented amount of young American soccer stars playing in Europe, and many of those athletes appear to be well on their way to stardom. Those players include Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Weston McKennie (Juventus), and Zack Steffen (Manchester City), just to name a few. It should be noted that recently, several American women soccer players have journeyed overseas to continue their professional careers as well. This phenomenon is due to some degree to the U.S.’s woefully inadequate management of the Coronavirus pandemic. Six members of the USWNT’s 23 total players have taken their skillset overseas in just the past two months. Because it is still unsafe in America for the USWNT to assemble, gifted players such as Alex Morgan and Rose Lavelle have made the decision to practice and compete overseas, and the reason extends beyond their inability to do so at home, but rather to keep their skills sharp and to say fit in the lead up to next summer’s (potential) Olympic games in Tokyo. With this in mind, the question that begs to be asked is: If America’s anemic response to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic persists, will more U.S. players, both men and women alike, choose to play in Europe and abroad? Based on the current state of play of soccer in the U.S. it seems to reason that the answer to that question is an unfortunate yes. Hopefully, this loss won’t lessen the growing interest of American soccer in the United States. 

0 replies on “American Soccer Invasion”