“Soccer’s coming home”, they sing, to the tune of the classic by Skinner and Baddiel.
It is a chant of choice for American fans ahead of the World Cup showdown, mocking their English opponents.
We heard it from the crowd watching the University of Maryland take on Fairleigh Dickinson University.
The joke, of course, is the replacement of the word ‘football’ with ‘soccer’ – to British listeners, it’s a text that could only have been written on a blackboard with a fingernail.
As supporters go, it’s on the benign side of the scale, a far cry from the terraced attrition in the country where the game started. It seems that some cultural traditions take longer to transmit.
American football is football, but not quite as we know it in the UK, certainly not as we speak it.
It’s where players “spin and burn,” wear “cleats” on their feet, not boots; take “PKs”, no penalties and, yes, take liberties with the name of the game.
From fall boys to contenders
However you say it, the U.S. men’s team has come a long way. They are fall boys cum contenders in a sport America was late to discover.
As the game grew globally, it struggled for space in a crowded sports market, supplanted by American football, baseball, basketball et al.
America’s male soccer players have long been in the shadow of the US women’s team. They are a sporting powerhouse and series winners of the World Cup (a record four times).
The women’s game has benefited from a college system that attracted many of the nation’s top female athletes to football scholarships, while their male counterparts leaned toward more traditional American sports.
FC Dallas’ US Soccer Hall of Fame features an exhibit reminiscent of the 1950 World Cup match, when the American men famously defeated England 1-0.
It was such a shock that they turned it into a movie: The Miracle Match. Seventy-two years later, there would be nothing miraculous about a US victory against England in Qatar.
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Men’s football has ‘taken off’
After an arduous journey into an established football system, the U.S. men’s team is ranked 16th in the world.
FC Dallas president and chairman Dan Hunt spoke to Sky News about how the men’s game has grown domestically.
He said: “The success of American football really goes back to 1994. With the World Cup here in the United States, a new generation of players began on the men’s side.
“The women’s game was already successful and doing well, but the excitement and energy that kick-started football in this country has kick-started football again.
“It’s been a history of fits and starts. You look at the big win against England in 1950, which was such a reference point, and then we were basically in the dark for 40 years, between 1950 and 1990.
“The old NASL (North America Soccer League) has come and gone. The promise we had to make as a country was to create a first division professional league, and that’s what brought MLS (Major League Soccer) to life.
“The early years of MLS were incredibly difficult, but for me the most pivotal moment was the 2002 World Cup, where the US team did really well with a number of MLS players.
“Some had already gone abroad and had success in Europe, but that was really the foundation because just a year before MLS had talked about going out of business and that was the little bit of momentum we needed.
“Since then, the MLS has really taken off.”
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While football club academies in America have increasingly become a feeder to the top tier of the sport, the college system still provides a path to the professional game.
The University of Maryland is a production line of talent – scholarship program graduates have played in the last five World Cups.
Sasho Cirovski is the university’s coach, whose career spans decades of growth in the American game.
He told Sky News: “The US college system is unique in the world. It is the only place in the world where you can combine high level academics with high level football in a residential environment with great facilities.
“You’re willing to deal with being away from home, you’re willing to deal with the expectations of performance.
“You’re scrutinized by the media, you’re challenged by the coaches, and you’re around players who also want to become high-level pros and win championships. So if you have that kind of support network where you can grow, and you can flourish, it allows players to realize their dreams.
“We have the great advantage in this country of being able to watch and experience other sports and learn from them. The American athlete has a character and competitive drive – a winner’s mentality, a toughness that is bred in different sports.
“For a long time we had to learn from watching the Bundesliga or the English Premier League – now we can see it in our own country. But we can see it from other sports too, so there’s a wide range of lessons around you that really shows you what it takes to be great.”