US soccer not to be underestimated, as country prepares to host World Cup

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The developments in American soccer since it hosted the World Cup 30 years ago have been nothing short of astonishing. At the risk of showing my age right from the off, some of us remember when the opening ceremony in 1994 started with a bizarre missed penalty from Diana Ross, and a host of stadiums that were far from sell-out capacity. Although the tournament was a success, and it did help to add a lot of interest to the sport in the US, the 2026 World Cup will be a different beast entirely. 

Preparing for soccer’s biggest showcase

The 2026 World Cup already has a different dynamic as it will take place across the North American continent and include America’s neighbors – Mexico to the south and Canada to the north. The soccer landscape has totally changed since 1994, with the world’s most popular sport making serious headway in the US, with many believing it is now the third most popular sport in the country. 

Soccer is quickly gaining ground on the dwindling popularity of the NBA; the stage could be set for the World Cup to be the final piece in the puzzle to help soccer truly become one of the big players in US sporting culture. 

Another key element is the rise of soccer gambling markets, which have become much more popular over the last five years. While soccer gambling has long been a widespread subsidiary market in the UK, it is slowly gathering momentum in the US. BetUS is one of many platforms looking to use the World Cup to facilitate a platform whereby US soccer fans can bet on upcoming matches and outright markets in the 2026 competition.

Structure of the 2026 competition

Although there are three host nations, the US will host most of the key games, including the semifinals and the final, which will take place in New Jersey. Dallas and Atlanta are the two hosts of the semifinals, with Dallas hosting over half a dozen games throughout the tournament. Eight other cities, including Vancouver, Guadalajara and Monterrey, will host games. It’ll be the first World Cup with 48 teams across 12 groups. 

Why US soccer shouldn’t be overlooked

US soccer was an easy target for ridicule back in the 1990s. It wasn’t a popular sport, comparatively, to the NBA or NFL, and although it still isn’t as popular, it has made up serious ground. One of the reasons US soccer is gathering more respect is because the quality of players has increased dramatically within the last 25 years. Although the hosts won’t exactly go into the competition as favorites – with the greatest respect to US soccer legends like Landon Donovan and Brian McBride – this is a much tighter, highly skilled US national team. 

Christian Pulisic, known as Captain America, is the most expensive US player ever. He fetched an enormous sum of $73 million when he moved from Borussia Dortmund to Chelsea in the January 2019 transfer window. While Christian might not have become the EPL megastar he’d have hoped, he’s now impressing many people at AC Milan and will undeniably be carrying the weight of the host nation on his back.

Could the US go far in the 2026 World Cup?

Many American soccer fans will be optimistic that the national team can put together one of their best runs. Unlike the US teams of yesteryear, their squad has some genuinely solid, world-level talent. 

While they won’t be going into the tournament as one of the favorites, you only need to look at 

how host nations have performed historically – with their raucous home support behind them – to get an idea of how far the US could go. If the draw is favorable, they could better their 2002 quarterfinal showing and perhaps even their semifinal result at the inaugural competition in 1930. 

However, stiff competition will emerge in the 12 months leading up to the tournament, and France, England and defending champions Argentina will all fancy their chances in 2026. The World Cup seeks to create unity in a world where there is so much division, and given that the World Cup Final is the most-watched sporting event on the planet, all eyes will be on North America in a couple of years to see how well they host the world’s greatest soccer spectacle. 

Summary

The World Cup is now used as a political tool as much as a sporting one. Similar to the Olympics, it isn’t just a case of simply nominating a host for the tournament; it also provides a broader example of the host’s sporting heritage and infrastructure, and highlights a country’s positives. The US will inevitably use the World Cup to showcase all of this and more, and with preparations well under way and some impressive stadiums already completed,  it’s looking like the stage is set for another blockbuster World Cup.

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