He said, “What we’re looking to do is change the way the world looks at American football.”
And on Friday, near the end of a four-year journey, they’ll get their golden opportunity to do just that.
They will step onto the biggest stage in sport, at the World Cup, during the European primetime, to meet England, the self-proclaimed inventor of football. They will compete with players from the league that the whole world is watching. They will shed respect from a country whose media drives global narratives about the game.
They will play 90 minutes that, for better or worse, rightly or wrongly, will validate or nullify their progress in the eyes of billions.
They welcome this burden. They cherish responsibility. They know this is their chance to change perceptions forever.
“This is what we are here for,” said striker Christian Pulisic last week. “Can [soccer] It wasn’t the first sport, or whatever, in the United States. We want to change the way the world sees American football. … That’s one of our goals.”
“It’s the biggest stage in football you can enjoy”
Berhalter inherited a program still reeling from the 2018 World Cup fiasco and, almost immediately, gave it direction. But what he couldn’t change were the deeply held beliefs and stigmas that surrounded the sport in America.
They appeared shortly after the USMNT qualified for the 2022 World Cup, minutes and hours after being drawn into a group alongside England. The British tabloids laughed gleefully.
“YANKEE DODDLE DANDY,” Someone shouted To celebrate the luck of England.
The headlines reeked of an all too familiar disrespect for American coaches and players. Bob Bradley felt it acutely in 2016 when he became the first American-born coach of a Premier League club. He saw her in sneakers and sneakers. Jesse Marsh, now manager at Leeds United, has also spoken about it.
Berhalter could sense it from afar, too. As the tabloids blared, he saw an “opportunity” to do something about it. So did his players.
“I think there are multiple benefits to playing a game against England,” midfielder Weston McKinney said at the time. “It’s the biggest stage in football you can get. To play them in the World Cup, to play against players that people know… You can take a step forward in your player’s growth, make yourself more popular, and also make the team more respectable, more looked up to, more believed in.” more.
“And that’s the goal that Greg set out to achieve when he took over,” McKinney said. “This is something that is always repeated whenever we go to camp: ‘Change the way the world looks at American football.’ And there is no better place, no better time, to be able to do that.”
Changing perceptions of American football globally starts at home
“It was great to have England in our group,” said Berhalter that day. “This is a game that always gets a lot of interest around it, because of England, their fans, and their solid place in football.”
He and others also knew it would capture the attention of tens of millions of Americans – and that part of changing the way the world looked at American football was changing the way America looked at it.
Midfielder Tyler Adams said, “We want to make an impact — of course on ourselves and our team, but ultimately how fans view soccer in the United States.” “And then, eventually, globally.” “You want to earn the respect of some of the best footballing nations in the world.” But the battle begins, or perhaps ends, at home.
American players are not aware of this. They know that football, for three years and 10 months out of each four-year cycle, remains a second-class citizen on the American sports scene. They also know that there is a segment of American football fans, sometimes derisively referred to as “eurosnobs”, who avoid domestic football and only watch the Champions League or the English Premier League.
They know because, in some cases, they were among those people when they were children. They are the first generation of USMNT stars to have grown up on Fox Soccer and Gol TV. “Growing up, all I watched was the Premier League,” Adams said last week. “I think a lot of young Americans would probably say the same thing.”
Many of them, including Adams, are now playing in the English Premier League. And as individuals, they are beginning to change perceptions.
“When Christian does well at Dortmund and Chelsea, it helps others say, ‘Hey, let’s look at Weston McKinney, or Adams, or [Brenden] “Aronson, or whoever it might be,” Sunil Gulati, the former head of American football, told Yahoo Sports this summer. It increases transformative assessments, cultivates acceptance, and becomes “self-fulfilling,” Gulati added.
These players also began to make frank statements. When Aaronson broke out at Leeds in August, he boldly stated in the post-match interview: “It shows people all over the world that Americans can play football too.”
But they know, as a group, that they are not fully respected here at the World Cup, or even in the United States, by the fans.
They are seen by some as a sleeping giant in sports, but with an eye on sleeping.
On Friday, with the world watching, they can wake up.