Thoughts on American soccer and FIFA World Cup 2022


Janine Gassel

The USA plays Iran Tuesday at 1:00 p.m. Central Time. The winner will advance to the knockout stage.

UPDATE: The Netherlands beat the USA 3-1. Netherlands advance to quarter-finals, will play Argentina or Australia

America’s bad at soccer. Okay, okay. The U.S. doesn’t exactly dominate in international soccer. But let me introduce a little more nuance to this take.

 Americans are used to winning. We have more Olympic medals than any other nation (2,633) and it’s not even close. That’s not the case for soccer, but that doesn’t mean the U.S. stinks at soccer because we haven’t had that high level of success. It means we’re spoiled most of the time. International soccer is our chance to experience not being the center of attention.

But the U.S. simply isn’t horrible at soccer. The U.S. sat at #16 on FIFA’s rankings of the best men’s national teams in the world and, a statistical analysis site, ranked the U.S. 14th in the world at the start of the tournament. There are 211 men’s national teams affiliated with FIFA, the sport’s governing association. 

Missing the 2018 World Cup was embarrassing (we’re looking at you Trinidad and Tobago), but it happens. In the 2022 World Cup, you might notice Italy’s absence. Italy won the UEFA European Championship in 2020. No one’s saying Italy is a terrible team. It’s just how sports work, underdogs win sometimes. 

But that’s all beside the point. The U.S. has cracked the World Cup’s knockout stage, the final 16 of the 32-team tournament.

The U.S. played Iran Tuesday at 1:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, meaning KHS teachers were vying with the U.S. Men’s National Team for students’ attention during sixth and seventh hours. To advance, the U.S. had to beat Iran. Though soccer includes the possibility of a draw, that would have meant that Iran moved on to the knockout stage. This is because Iran was ahead of the U.S. in points at the start of the game. At the same time, England played and defeated its neighbor Wales, 3-0.

The Nov. 25 England-USA match shattered the record for most-watched soccer game broadcasted in English ever, with nearly twenty million viewers at its peak, per Fox Sports. If you’re on TikTok,  you’re aware that it’s also created a lot of memes, in which American fans claimed that they would walk away from the match with a victory, even though England was ranked much higher and heavily favored. Many drew precedent from the American Revolution as evidence of the American’s eminent victory. TikTok had been instilled with the Spirit of 1776. See #thedayitbecomessoccer.

My friend Vasilije Djuranovic, KHS junior, noted that the match ended much more like the War of 1812 than the American Revolution though, with its final score of 0-0. But that draw means much more to Americans than it does the English. The U.S. has just shown it can hold its own against an incredible team. Maybe I’m stretching this comparison, but the USA-England draw gives me hope for the US’s chances against great teams in the knockout stage. 

Because I’m writing for Americans, I should explain how the World Cup works. To qualify for the World Cup, you have to win games against other teams in your continent. The amount of teams that qualify by continent depends on the soccer strength of the continent, as decided by FIFA. Those 32 teams are divided into eight groups of four. All of the teams in a group play all the other teams in a group. The two of each group with the most points after those three games (three for a win, one for a draw) advance to the knockout stage, which is a single-elimination bracket. 

At the end of it all, the winning team will receive the FIFA World Cup Trophy and the biggest bragging rights that any one nation could ever claim over another. 

As mentioned before, the U.S. failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. In 2014, they advanced to the knockout stage, before being beaten by Belgium. In 2010, the U.S. advanced to the knockout stage, being beaten by Ghana in the round of 16. In 2006, the U.S. failed to advance past the group stage. The last time the U.S. won a game in the knockout stage was 2002. The U.S. knocked out Mexico in a 2-0 victory, before losing to Germany.

The United States will host the World Cup in four years, alongside Canada and Mexico across sixteen cities in North America. The tournament could be an opportunity to end the monopoly of the “four North American sports” and finally turn Americans’ attention to soccer, for good.  The World Cup has been hosted by the U.S. once before, in 1994, and is credited by FIFA as the birth of soccer culture in the United States. 

Major League Soccer was formed two years later, and has since grown to 26 teams. The USWNT competed in its first World Cup in 1991, taking the trophy back home to the U.S. four times and becoming the undisputed best team in the world. And the USMNT, well, they’ll have a chance to win their first game in the knockout stage since 2002 this Saturday. I’d tune in if I were you.