With the World Cup coming to what can fairly be called a delightful climax, we can see again, even more clearly, the stark difference between soccer in America and American soccer.
Soccer in America is doing great. American soccer is still trundling along at its slow but steady pace.
Soccer in America is the World Cup, and to lesser extents the Champions League, the Premier League, Real Madrid and Barcelona, the fading debate between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Soccer in America is the technological revolution that has given us the best players in the world doing their remarkable things on a regular basis, and being exposed to Ronaldo’s and Messi’s replacements (Kylian Mbappe, Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku, et. al.).
Soccer in America is actually having a rooting interest not only in the country you adopt as yours for a month, but marveling in the magnificent matches that have drawn you in. By any standard, this has been brilliant entertainment, which brings us to the two things Americans do best.
Label-shop, and watch a good show. We are watching the best players do their best things in electrically-charged environments, they are providing scintillating responses to our entertainment demands, and we are pleased.
And there’s not an American in sight.
Not that the U.S. team would have ruined all that, mind you. It’s just that they could not have improved upon it. They missed the World Cup on merit, and the experience of the World Cup has been better for it.
That’s soccer in America. American soccer, on the other hand, is still largely a stadium experience. In Portland and Seattle and Atlanta, to name but a few, being there is the difference. MLS does not yet translate best as a television/streaming sport, and the rivalries that exist do so only in a local environment rather than a national one. The game is growing, and the experience is growing, but it still lacks, and will continue to lack, the one thing Americans do best.
Fans of soccer in America know that the big names that have come to MLS are past their meaningful sell-by dates, and the players they have come to enjoy and want to watch even more are the ones they are watching in Russia right now. Because the World Cup wins, soccer in America wins.
And American soccer . . . well, it does what it does. It tries hard, it makes modest stadiums and occasionally fills them, and then the Premier League starts August 10, and it becomes soccer in America again.