No matter the sport, the true loyalty and passion of a fan base is best measured during times of grave defeat, not continued success.
We all know it’s easy to ride the wave of celebration when things are going well. But what about those tough times?
How many people actually care about the U.S. missing out on World Cup 2018? How long does the anger, sorrow and mourning last after Tuesday night? Who will still be talking about U.S. soccer missing the World Cup one month… hell, one week from now.
These are the questions that help us determine just how far we’ve come as a national fan base.
16 years ago, the U.S. men’s team, coached by Bruce Arena no less, needed a result and some help in the final two match days of qualifying to make it to World Cup 2002. While we will never know what would have happened if the ball had bounced differently back then, there are a few things we can say about the difference between 2002 and 2016.
Looking back, very few people were covering the outcomes of CONCACAF qualifying matches and It was near-impossible to find many of the U.S. games on television.
The die-hard fans still cared deeply about match results, but the widespread organization of supporters and the communications tools we rely on today weren’t in place for American fans to share in jubilation or sadness.
In short, the passion of U.S. soccer fans 16 years ago existed mostly in small circles.
Today, the American Outlaws have been around for over a decade. Facebook and Twitter have become megaphones for every dedicated and casual supporter. And content regarding our national team and its players is readily available.
Just take a look at the outrage on Twitter over Bein coverage of the Trinidad & Tobago game.
Hope the 17 people that have beIN Sports are enjoying the game. A World Cup birth on the line and the game isn’t on a major network 🙃#USMNT
— Stephen Rivers (@stephenarivers) October 11, 2017
Or read through the heartache following the outcome.
If you are a American soccer fan, be angry, scream from the hill tops, this should never happen. #USMNT
— Maximiliano Bretos (@mbretosESPN) October 11, 2017
A reader sent me a 4,705-word email about the state of U.S. Soccer at 3.50 a.m. In case you were wondering where things stand with the fans.
— Leander Schaerlaeckens (@LeanderAlphabet) October 11, 2017
The situation may not be fun for U.S. soccer fans to assess right now. But the collective anger, frustration and sadness surrounding the national team is a sign that we have come a long way.
This fire will only help the sport and its passionate fan base grow.