The FIFA Women’s World Cup is on later this month, and the USWNT is a heavy favourite to go back-to-back as champions. Yet while they are continuing a long era of success, the USMNT is facing large difficulties, including failing to qualify for the 2018 Men’s World Cup. There are three key factors as to why the USWNT is so dominant, but the USMNT struggles to become a heavyweight.
Quality of Domestic League
In terms of worldwide domestic soccer leagues, the MLS is not considered one of the toughest in the world. The “Big Five Leagues” of Europe (England, France, Spain, Italy and Germany) command the top ranks, yet few male players from the USA make it in these leagues. As a result, the men often play in leagues where the quality of play is reduced, including the MLS.
Although the quality of the MLS, or other leagues such as the Dutch Eridivisie, are not substantially behind these top competitions, it does mean the players in them are faced with a lesser quality of opponent. Consequently, their development is restricted and they don’t achieve the levels of national teams that win the FIFA World Cup. Since the first FIFA Men’s World Cup, all of the winners are from the “Big Five” nations, aside from Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.
On the other hand, the domestic league for women in the USA is first-rate. While the leagues in England, Germany and France are growing, the National Women’s Soccer League is established as the standard for all others. Attracting the best players in the women’s game, it possesses the quality that the MLS doesn’t. This helps the women in the league develop to become their best, facing constant challenges and the best competition in the world.
Competition From Other Sports
Women in the USA also have few alternatives in terms of professional sport. Aside from the WNBA and the National Women’s Soccer League, the highest paying sports for women are tennis and golf. This creates a situation where women have fewer opportunities for development in other sports. Or due to reduced pay, they have less time to train and develop without additional sponsorship or income – potentially spending their time working to supplement their earnings.
The problem for other sports is compounded when leagues like the NWSL are profitable, and able to use their revenue to promote and support player development. Young women and girls have more opportunities to enter the sport, whether it is through college programs or initiatives provided throughout the country. With a vacuum existing for professional sport opportunities, soccer is able to take up much of the space and encourage the best female athletes to participate.
Men, meanwhile, are faced with substantial competition from other sports. The major four sports in the USA for men are hockey, basketball, football (NFL) and baseball. The MLS sits just behind those. For boys and men considering what sport is best for them, soccer has a tough battle on its hands. With most college scholarships and additional opportunities devoted to these four sports, soccer gets a small look in.
Additionally, the earnings for the best male athletes in the USA are lower in soccer than other sports. The best American player right now, Christian Pulisic, is earning $1.1 million per year in Germany. Despite a large increase with an impending transfer, he will still be behind the top 25 contracts in basketball, let alone baseball and football. Talented soccer players like Odell Beckham Jr. are lured away by more lucrative contracts. The USMNT loses the best athletes to other sports, and lacks the money to retain them.
“Success Breeds Success”
Former USWNT player Mia Hamm once said, “success breeds success.” For her, and the rest of the USWNT, being part of a team that is perennially at the top of the sport incentivises more talented individuals to make the team. Being part of a winning culture and having an elite squad means only the best players can make it. Continuing to win encourages aspiring athletes to be a part of the top level possible.
However, the mediocrity that has plagued the USMNT in recent years is less inspiring. There is little reason for potential sportstars to join a team that will have little success – ultimately, all athletes play to win. Without winning, the USMNT is less attractive to younger players, who for one reason or another, may change sports or settle for a strong domestic career, even in a lesser league. The USWNT has none of these issues.