Born in the USA

BPF contributor Michael Donnelly is back and takes a look at one of England’s group opponents at the 2010 World Cup in South Afrcia.

It doesn’t take an expert to work out that Everton’s recent rise in form has coincided with the arrival in January of American soccer star, Landon Donovan. The Californian native has slotted into manager David Moyle’s plans so seamlessly that it has left many Premiership followers wondering where he has been before now and indeed his performances have inspired a group of Everton fans to set up a Facebook page urging the Toffees boss to make his loan deal more of a permanent one. Along with Clint Dempsey leading the Fulham attack and the imposing figure of the ever improving Tim Howard between the posts, Fabio Capello knows that he won’t have it all his own way when his English team take on the United States this summer in South Africa.

The recent rise in the strength of the American national team is no accident however. The national league, Major League Soccer (MLS) has seen its standard rise steadfastly over the past five years thanks to a philosophy of nurturing home grown talent with proven international stars. Set up in 1993 as part of the original bid to bring the 1994 World Cup to the States it had to endure an extremely difficult start with low attendances and disappointing advertising revenue constantly calling the viability of the league into question. Two Florida franchises were shut down in 2001 and the future of the MLS looked extremely bleak, especially when compared to America’s other, more mainstream sporting leagues.

All this changed thanks to Team USA’s remarkable performance in the 2002 World Cup. A victory against Portugal in the group stages was the catalyst for an impressive run through the knock out stages where they defeated bitter rivals Mexico comprehensively before being cruelly defeated by eventual finalists Germany 1-0 at the quarter final stage. Initially sceptical Americans back home took notice of their national team’s effort and an interest in soccer was reborn, with 60,000plus attending the final of the 2002 MLS Cup final held shortly after the World Cup. Improved television coverage and the building of soccer specific stadiums has increased fan interest even more in America’s already saturated, ultra competitive sports market.

The arrival of the Designated Player Rule was a massive factor in increased gates at MLS grounds. Allowing each team to sign one player outside salary cap restrictions (salary cap, now there’s an idea!) it paved the way for international stars such as Juan Pablo Angel, Freddie Ljungburg and a Mr. D Beckham to ply their trade stateside and the sporting public loved it, with attendances and TV viewing figures reaching record highs with huge interest from soccer fans wanting to see how each marquee signing would contribute to their club.

There are currently 15 teams operating in the MLS, with Ljungburg’s Seattle Sounders having joined up prior to the 2009 season. Further expansion is planned with a team from Philadelphia coming on board in 2010 and two more to join in time for 2011. Average attendance in 2009 stood at an impressive 17,000 per game and this is set to grow substantially in the 2010 World Cup year.

The US national team again defied the critics at the 2009 Confederations Cup held in South Africa, defeating Egypt in the group stages before sensationally dumping European Champions Spain out 2-0 in the semi final. While their inexperienced showed in the final, losing to Brazil 3-2 having led 2-0 at half time, a marker was put down that this team is not to be taken lightly and with the talent in the squad playing in both Europe and their own domestic league, they are capable of beating anyone on their day.

Capello, take note.

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