Celebratory rather than analytical and academic study of American elite soccer

Jørn Hansen
University of Southern Denmark

Clemente A. Lisi
A History of the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team
171 pages, hardcover, ill.
Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield 2017
ISBN 978-1-4422-7757-1

Clemente A. Lisi has worked as a writer and editor for the past two decades. His work has appeared in the New York Postand ABCNews.Com. Lisi is also the author of The US. Women’s Soccer Team: An American Success Story (2010)and A History of the World Cup: 1930-2014 (2015).

In his introduction, Lisi tells us that his “aim with the book is to both inform and entertain.  Older fans will revel in the nostalgia and player profiles; younger ones will learn about tournaments and games that have long been forgotten but were nonetheless important to the team’s growth”. (p. 2)

Thus, the book intends to inform the reader about the development of the national soccer team in the US from a humble beginning to what Lisi describes as a more successful role in international soccer during the last two decades. The presentation ends in 2017 which means that the team’s failed attempt to qualify to the World Cup 2018 in Russia is not described.

The book consists of 9 chapters:

  1. “Humble beginnings: 1916-1939”.
  2. “Early World Cup Success 1930-1940”, when the team rather successfully participated in the first world cup in 1930 in Uruguay and less successfully in 1934 in Italy.
  3. “The Big Upset: 1950-1959”, when USA won over England at The World Cup 1950 in Brazil.
  4. “Slump into Obscurity: 1960-1969”, with poor results for the team.
  5. “Soccer’s rebirth: 1970-1979”, when famous players like Pelé started to play in the American soccer league and the national team engaged competent coaches.
  6. “On the Verge of success: 1980-1988”, when an indoor soccer tournament began and made the game more popular in the US.
  7. “Shot Heard ‘Round the World: 1989-1999”, about, among other things, how USA successfully hosted the World Cup 1994 with so far the biggest audience in the history of World Cup, and how the US team started to win over their constant rival Mexico.
  8. “America’s Team: 2000-2010”, when it became normal for US players to play in the professional leagues in Europe and the national team made convincing results against some of the best national teams in the world.
  9. “A New Era: 2011-2016”, with Klinsmann as coach when soccer according to Lisi had made it in USA.

Included are several insertions with portraits of famous players or coaches. All-Time Records and USMNT World Cup Box Scores 1930-2014 are described in two Appendixes.

There are no references in the presentation but in the Bibliography different newspapers are listed together with American Soccer History Archives and some soccer webpages. Only three other books about soccer has been used.

In my opinion this explains why the presentation mainly is about the matches that the US National Teams have played in their attempt to qualify for the World Cup or to win the American Cup or the CONCACAF cup. As reader you learn nothing about the role of soccer in American society, for example the problem for soccer to be accepted because it has been considered an un-American game. You only learn that it has been difficult but there is no attempt to analyze how and why this was the case. Because the matches, players and coaches are in focus, the problems in the latest decades in FIFA and CONCACAF are only mentioned in passing.

In this way the book inserts itself in a tradition where focus is on celebration instead of a more analytical and academic approach to soccer history. For those who like the homage approach, the book might be interesting. I have been informed about the development of the US National Team and the celebration of the team, but as a professional historian I have not been entertained by reading several summaries about the matches the national teams have played since 1930.

Copyright © Jørn Hansen 2019

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