When the US Men’s National Team roster was announced for the 2022 World Cup, the club names of the players were dazzling: Arsenal, Barcelona, Juventus, among others.
The “kids” playing in Qatar in the red, white, and blue are part of a new generation of soccer players. Top clubs covet these names with contributions pouring in for both club and country.
As the US looks ahead in four years to hosting a second World Cup, it can be easy to forget that the US is still a relatively young soccer power. Certain things fell in the correct order, both good and bad, for the USMNT to get to this current spot. More bad breaks could have further delayed the outbreak of the US.
Adam Elder’s new book, New Kids in the World Cup: The Totally Late ’80s and Early 90s Tale of the Team That Changed American Soccer Forever, looks at this formative period. Many older soccer fans remember Paul Caligiuri’s goal at Trinidad & Tobago. Or, they recall the USMNT’s impressive performance to hold Italy at Rome in 1990 to just one goal. The story of how fraught this period was for US Soccer needs retelling. Elder’s writing style and in-depth knowledge gives this story the attention and attitude needed to do it justice.
New Kids in the World Cup book by Adam Elder
The story begins in 1988. The US advanced past Jamaica to make the round-robin phase for the 1990 World Cup. This US team is not like the totally professional one today. Instead, the roster had a mix of indoor soccer players, part-timers, a few pros in Europe and others known by the Federation. The coach was a part-time coach, full-time maître d’. But the stakes could not be higher.
The US failing to qualify could mean losing hosting rights to the 1994 World Cup and the millions of dollars that came with it.
The book takes the reader through qualification and the subsequent World Cup. Elder looks at not just the performance on the field, but how the Federation evolved and built the roster to reflect the goals of a more modern, more professional system. Of course like any good story there were numerous times the US could have tripped up and fallen short, but they dramatically reached their goal.
Narrative of the story
The difference between this book and other ‘this is where they came from’ type books is the narrative style. The book reads like a novel. The scenes are full of emotionally-loaded descriptive words and the chapters include cliff-hangers and dramatic narrative pauses. Considering the personalities on the team and the late ’80s and early ’90s timeframe, the stylistic choice is a good one.
Even if you know how the story ends, and acknowledge there may be some overdramatization at times, this is a very good read. Elder did his homework either through superior memory or re-watching these games and interviewing the participants. I recommend this book as some enjoyable reading between stressful US Group B matches as a way to recognize just how good we have it as US soccer fans.
PHOTO: IMAGO / WEREK
Guide to World Cup 2022
Here are some resources to help you get the most out of the biggest event in soccer!