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A Brief History of the United States Thinking It's on The Brink of Winning the World Cup

Bruce Arena thinks 2026 will be when we "start talking about winning a World Cup." U.S. Soccer has been talking about winning a World Cup since 1998.

by Aaron Gordon
Apr 13 2017, 6:49pm

© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Today, April 13 in the Year Of Our Lord 2017, United States Men's National Team soccer coach Bruce Arena told members of the press in a conference call that we will "start talking about" United States Men's Soccer Team contending for a World Cup victory in 2026.

Bruce, my friend, you are a solid 19 years late. U.S. Soccer has been talking about winning a World Cup since 1998.

Starting in 1998, the United States Soccer Federation launched Project 2010, with the explicit goal of winning the World Cup in 2010, as reported at the time in various newspapers. This was apparently not a joke, even though the United States finished last in their group in the 1998 World Cup with zero points and one goal scored in their three group stage matches. Writing in Sports Illustrated 10 years later, Grant Wahl revised Project 2010's goal to "win millions of investment dollars from Nike, and in that regard U.S. Soccer succeeded." This makes a whole lot more sense, but is also a Hall of Fame example of goalpost shifting.

Anyways, as silly as it seems now, people believed it, mostly on the faulty logic that American Youth Soccer Organization participation equals future soccer stars. For example, writing in Newsweek in 2002, Robert Samuelson said "I recall exactly when I knew the United States would win the World Cup. It was a clear fall morning in the mid-1990s. We were taking our younger son, then 6, to join the local league. We drove to Julius West Middle School, a few miles from our home. There, on the school's grounds, were several dozen small soccer fields (20 yards by 40 yards)." He goes on to essentially make the point that because a lot of kids play soccer, the national team will be good when they grow up. Which, if that's how this all works, China will face India in every World Cup final from here to eternity.

Nevertheless, the prognosticators persisted. In 2004, Eric Weinberger in the Boston Globe made the vague claim that "Most close observers of the game now think it is only a short time before the United States wins the World Cup."

The United States was eliminated from the 2010 World Cup in the Round of 16 in a 2-1 loss to Ghana.