Why Americans suck at soccer (well, the men)

Why Americans suck at soccer (well, the men)

We’ve got a theory, and it involves the soccer wars.

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In this episode of Vox Almanac, Vox’s Phil Edwards puts forth a theory about terrible American men’s soccer.

There are a lot of reasons Americans suck at soccer – but if you look at the history, you’ll find a surprisingly compelling explanation for why American soccer never took off. In the 1920s, soccer was a surprisingly successful sport in the US, with massive matches and a robust league. What went wrong?

American soccer and English football first diverged in the 1800s, when American colleges like Harvard and Yale started playing a more rugby-like game. But America quickly caught up with soccer in the 1920s, attracting large crowds and even stealing away European players.

Then the soccer wars happened. Constant battles in the 1920s between the ASL – American Soccer League – and USFA — United States Football Association — carved up American soccer’s cash, fans, and talent. By the time the depression hit, American soccer was so weakened that it couldn’t rebound as well as European and South American soccer culture did. The subsequent half-century of sports build up gave Americans a permanent handicap when it came to building a robust soccer culture.

It’s a theory — but the success of the US Women’s National Team bears out the idea that something is specifically wrong for the men. And it just might be the case that 1920s soccer wars are the reason.

Read about the own-goal that made the US Men’s National Team miss the 2018 World Cup: https://www.theringer.com/2018/6/5/17428184/2018-world-cup-us-soccer-inside-story-jurgen-klinsmann-sunil-gulati-bruce-arena

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102 Responses

  1. MalikEmmanuel says:

    In the USA soccer is a rich white person sport, to the rest of the world soccer is an easily accessible sport for everyone especially the poor where if you’re really good you can get a pro contract, in the US that cultural space is occupied by basketball and football. Soccer is not going to be big here without supplanting that.

    • Zach Stevens says:

      MalikEmmanuel soccer is as big as its ever going to get. that’s the facts. usa does not care. the best athletes choose more enjoyable sports with more scoring and more team involvement and thus more money. many countries play nothing but soccer or cricket. the kids don’t grow up desiring more as that is all they know. the usa has it right. it helps if the men do better sure. but people honestly invest too much into soccer when it does little… check out Brazil and how it’s soccer stadiums are doing now after the world cup in brazil. business insider youtube site. football, baseball, basketball just are wiser investments and more enjoyable but I know you like soccer.

    • Zach Stevens says:

      Jumbled_ Thoughts no golf is a club recreational free time sport. people who can afford to play it and not having to work tend to be light skinned and well off. just something they enjoy. not entirely true at all. it costs $$ sure. but it’s also a select type of individual sport and work out for business folks. don’t give the whole entitled vibe.

    • Josh Thompson says:

      MalikEmmanuel ^

    • Pardon me are you Aaron burr sir says:

      MalikEmmanuel but it’s not though

    • Pardon me are you Aaron burr sir says:

      cursed_ninja 57 everyone on my soccer team was either Hispanic or black. I don’t know why you guys think it’s a rich white person sport???

  2. Grimm says:

    The people making the “it’s called football, not soccer” comments are so tired. He explained why we call it soccer and not football. That’s the word here, get over it.

    • J D says:

      maria papageloy It should be called football for you, and soccer for Americans. It’s not a problem.

    • Grimm says:

      It’s okay that the rest of the world calls it football, I am Dutch-American and when I am speaking to a non-American I call it football. But American English is a language so its aloud to have its own words and history. Calling football soccer isn’t about an American ego and it’s not about insulting the rest of the world or trying to be different. American English, as was mentioned in the video, developed the word football to mean a “rugby-like sport” because at the time the rules defining rugby and football were unclear. So America called rugby football, then “football” was already used up so we had to call “the sport where you kick things” something else, so we called it soccer because that word was also in use internationally at the time.

    • Justin B says:

      Thank you Grimm, I was just about to comment exactly this.

    • Shirokuro Max says:

      Grimm football, you ignorant cheese burger eater

    • genocide amerika says:

      Get over slavery as well typical america lol

  3. Rahat Alam says:

    clean your laptop vox 😐 You aren’t in college anymore.

  4. jac hug says:

    You guys copied the rugby and name it football.

    • John Papado says:

      Watchtoonz Rex It is one sport but that’s a link to the disambiguation. We all know that there is another sport that ONLY AMERICANS call football. We argue that it shouldn’t be called that

    • John Papado says:

      Pirated Emoticon Well Football and American “football” are even more different but you didn’t care did you?

    • Watchtoonz Rex says:

      Football – is a family of team sports that involve, to varying degrees, kicking a ball with a foot to score a goal. Unqualified, the word football is understood to refer to whichever form of football is the most popular in the regional context in which the word appears. Sports commonly called football in certain places include Association football (known as soccer in some countries); gridiron football (specifically American football or Canadian football); Australian rules football; rugby football (either rugby league or rugby union); and Gaelic football. These different variations of football are known as football codes.

      Dude Canadians and Australians have their own Football code and call Football – soccer…Don’t just focus your hate on the Americans,,,

    • jac hug says:

      Otis Daniels You mean you made it for the weaker.

  5. Bryan Coronel says:

    They suck because soccer in america is so focused on endurance and just lasting the whole game rather than skill

    • SIR Lord Henry mortimer says:

      Bryan Coronel bullshit. American athletes are rearly skillful.

    • Billy Sooner says:

      Conserving energy is a tactic in every game/battle. Even if victory is assured, generals/players never throw their best into the fray all at once for fear of losing the advantage. It’s also logistically sound. And while amateurs think tactics, Veterans are already thinking about logistics.

  6. Long Nose Joe says:

    Because we dominate in basketball and we have our own sports in north america (baseball+real football). It would be unfair to destroy ALL the sports, right?

    • Aguila701 says:

      Long Nose Joe “Real football” first, the “ball” isn’t even a ball. Then you only use your feet for Field goals and running. How can you possibly call that “football”. If anything, it should be called “hug the elongated ball thing” ball. Then, soccer is the most important sport worldwide whereas Baseball, basketball, and American “football” have very limited appeal beyond the U.S. So if the U.S really wants to prove they’re the “best” then they should prove it in the one sport that matters in the world stage. But they don’t cuz they’re not the best. Didn’t even qualify, sad.

    • Martin says:

      Lol yeah because it’s so hard to dominate in a sport that only one continent cares about…

    • Slashplite says:

      but baseball is so boring.. why you like to play boring sports

    • poetz123 says:

      Cornileus Games America is a continent. The US is a country

    • spectre says:

      ask homann japan has a baseball league

  7. buckeye998197 y says:

    America’s best male athletes don’t play soccer

    • the andy olsen says:

      Seriously, imagine if these great athletes had focused on “soccer” at an early age, how amazing would they be?
      NBA- Lebron James, Russel Westbrook, Kyrie Erving, Kemba Walker, John Wall, Nate Robinson
      NFL- Odell Beckam, Earl Thomas, Russell Wilson, Michael Vick, Adrian Peterson
      MLB- Mick Trout

      I went with guys that are fast with great footwork and incredible reflexes.

    • Zico Bantawa says:

      Odell Beckham started out playing soccer. He just couldn’t cut it. To reach elite level in soccer, one has to start out very early and play nothing but soccer. American athletes grow up playing multiple sports in high school and then focus on 1 sport in college. That’s just not enough in the cut throat world of pro soccer at the highest level.

    • New Goliard says:

      It’s a joke……….most economies today are a mix of democracy and socialism.

    • Lightnessplays Gaming says:

      So true

    • ozzy4ever666 says:

      I think NBA players would make much better soccer players than Pro soccer players would be at playing basketball.

  8. Noel Medina says:

    America can’t improve unless they make a league system with promotion and relegation this would make the game more exciting because it gives teams a reason why they shouldn’t finish last unlike now where teams do on purpose to get free draft picks

    • J Thomas says:

      While I agree with some of the points you make, I’ve got to push back on the narrative that no pro/rel somehow hurts US soccer. Because it’s important for a relatively young league that needs to attract owners and investors that these teams are in MLS. Nobody is gonna pay $100 million (MLS entry price) to own a team, just to have it relegated the next season. And to be honest, it actually helps the developmental side of things that they stay in MLS, because all MLS teams are mandated to have an academy system and B teams (either as a part of the football club or through an affiliated organization).

    • Noel Medina says:

      J Thomas I understand that the league needs money that they get as entry fees for clubs but an organic fan base that is developed over years and brought up through the leagues will in the long run be more effective in bringing fans to not only the first division but also the second and lower tiers in football

    • CRUSTYPIEMAN says:

      No. I have to disagree with the relegation bit. The tanking and draft picks are a thing so that there is parity between teams and no superteams happen. This is especially important in soccer, where one good player can take over the game because of how big the pitch is. You want an expansion team to be competitive off the get go, particularly in the MLS where they are expanding the league very rapidly. Check out the Vegas Golden Knights in hockey.

    • Jason Sender says:

      But is a parity between all teams necessary? By this, I mean that it does not detract from a sport that similar teams often compete for the top spot. Football is a sport with frequent upsets, showing that even though teams may have less outright talent, they can still perform. Take, for example, Leicester city in the premier league in 2015-2016. They were able to win by far the most prestigious league in the world, even though the previous season they had only just escaped relegation, and hadn’t even bought a stupid number of players. The draft system is just not necessary to prevent super teams from completely eclipsing the others.

  9. W K says:

    The reason is simple. Traditionally, American kids grow up playing basketball, football and baseball more than soccer. Countries become good at a particular sport when lots of kids grow up playing it. That’s why Canada and Russia are great at hockey, America rocks basketball and even the Dominican Republic can make a name for itself in baseball.

  10. NuclearNow_SolarLater says:

    Vox, I think you’re wrong in this one. It’s more about the culture, than anything else. I’m confident that if more more young men played, we’d dominate the mens game. And I even think a career in soccer > american football. More Global reach and $ long term IMHO

    • Peter John Jude says:

      NuclearNow_SolarLater, not sure how to weigh the arguments, but I feel like I agree w/you on some level. Japan didn’t have a professional leauge until 1991 and yet they have had a better world cup preformance than the U.S.

    • Jason Sender says:

      I can’t say I agree that you’d “dominate” the mens game. The other nations are far too established in the game, with things such as the prem and la liga massively impacting upon the quality of players scouted in Europe. The US is likely too far eclipsed to truly “dominate” any time in the near-distant future. It is true, however, that you would be able to more reliably qualify for the bigger tournaments.

  11. INVESTING HUSTLER - Stocks Money Entertainment says:

    Because they’re already too good at basketball ?

    • Otis Daniels says:

      Lars Hoeijmans no they are too soft to,play any other sport but soccer have you seen the world cup?

    • SHAWKLAN 27 says:

      Lars Hoeijmans good joke there

    • John Papado says:

      Juice Boy I didn’t say which is better entertainment. I said that the NBA is all about show. And it’s not necessarily bad. But you can’t come here and say that that’s incorrect cause the stats say otherwise. Most offenses in the NBA last about 15 seconds. The European ones last about 18 on average. And not every second offense leads to points in Europe. In the NBA the dunks are everywhere. And that’s why most games end with a score of like 105-104 when in Europe the games mostly end somewhere in the 80-90 mark.

    • Slashplite says:

      basketball is boring, but not as much as baseball ..

  12. Yanish Rambocus says:

    I recently moved to the US for college and have been playing football (soccer for you guys) with Americans and my word they do not know how to play. They are so individualistic and do not like passing. They can only go forward with the ball even if there’s a better option backwards.They believe it’s an individual sport and scoring is more important than the team winning. It’s incredible! I think it has something to do with Americans thinking they are better than the rest. No you are not!

    • Ricardo Varona says:

      Yanish Rambocus Its not thinking you are better. Its that americans are driven to results and wont wait for a better play.

    • Yanish Rambocus says:

      No they just want to keep the ball to themselves and do not like passing. They believe that dribbling is better than passing even if most of the time they do not know how to dribble. I did highlight in my comment that they view it as an individual sport rather than a collective sport. I think my comment was pretty clear. You can make a good play by touching the ball once or twice. Your team can manage a good play without you having the ball the whole time

    • m0rappabro says:

      Quit trying to make the US look bad. I live in the US and I’m a football player for both high school and local club. No one plays like that, just because a couple 6 teammates don’t pass the ball doesn’t mean the whole country of US football players don’t pass the ball. ??‍♂️

    • Eavan Louise says:

      I was going to comment the same thing! I have a friend from Germany who played in our high school here in the states and we had a really interesting conversation a few months back where he went on about how the strategy is totally different here. A lot more kicking the ball as far as you can and a lot less passing like you said. Apparently we had scouts from Spain watch a game and they completely eviscerated us—my friend was worried about playing here for so long that he’d have trouble making teams etc. when he went back for college. It was fascinating that strategy could screw us so bad in the long run.

  13. Christopher Bathgate says:

    The only reason the USA succeedes in womens soccer is because all other countries barely invest in womens soccee

    • Hades Che says:

      MiLKK cause no one watches womans soccer

    • Marcel Huchwajda says:

      Eastern Europe

    • Zach Stevens says:

      Christopher Bathgate you don’t invest in a business that doesn’t produce a profit aka women sports professionally especially outside the usa.

    • Brayan Habid says:

      The Chinese invest a lot in men and women’s soccer… And look at their results. Not everything is money.

    • Zach Stevens says:

      Brayan Habid very true. throwing money means nothing to solving issues. it’s about reaching diversity of talent and building up a sports culture and not just 1 sport. china is too little of its whole population reached with equal oppertunity because of its government and it invests to make money and not to benefit the program or athletes.

  14. waterglass21 says:


  15. Vox says:

    If you picture a soccer ball looking like this ⚽, you’re not alone. But back in the early days of television they looked very, very different. Watch: http://bit.ly/2tf3RP5

  16. jortand says:


  17. Experiment 101 says:

    Of course Vox a liberal news source would target men in particular

    • Rohishimoto says:

      Experiment 101 Your trying to get upset over nothing. They’re making it specifically about men because the women’s team does very well.

    • FruityCheeks says:

      Experiment 101 The american female team is really good. What are they gonna talk about?

  18. video says:


  19. Zelda 194 says:


  20. gjD4NT3 says:

    How to start getting good at football:

    1) Stop calling it soccer.

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