Now it feels like before, but it was only two days ago, Saturday, that American football fans celebrated Sergiño Dest’s triumph in the Copa del Rey final. Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao 4-0, and photos of Dest with the trophy, or with her arms around Lionel Messi, were shared throughout the American soccer community. Dest became the first US international to win the tournament that was first played 118 years ago.
And that was just the beginning of the story that is happening now, or is about to happen, for several American players in Europe. Christian Pulisic helped Chelsea seal a second consecutive place in the FA Cup final, also on Saturday, defeating his American teammate, goalkeeper Zack Steffen, and Manchester City. However, there is a consolation prize for Steffen. The English League Cup final is likely to start on Sunday, and will almost certainly lift the Premier League trophy at the end of the season (if Manchester City are not spectacularly ripped from the competition first).
Oh, and by the way, both Pulisic and Steffen are still in contention to win the UEFA Champions League as well (if Chelsea and Man City aren’t spectacularly pulled out of the competition first).
Meanwhile, while Juventus’ nine-year grip on the Serie A crown may be loosening, the Bianconeri and their American midfielder Weston McKennie are scheduled to contest the Coppa Italia final on May 19. And that’s not all. More American internationals like Bryan Reynolds, Giovanni Reyna, Tyler Adams, Josh Sargent, Timothy Weah, Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie are still in contention for major honors in the coming weeks. It’s a defining season, an unlikely moment in any we’ve seen in American football history.
It took a long time, many years of starts and starts and players going overseas to small teams in modest or unwanted settings, to get to this point. The US national team that will begin qualifying for the World Cup in September is anchored by a cohort of talented young players with the kind of top-notch professional experience and expertise that seemed unlikely, if not impossible, ago. just a few years. And now, just as Americans are beginning to find their place in the sport’s biggest clubs, an earthquake threatens to shatter the structure they are in.
Waves from Sunday night’s European Super League announcement may result in tidal waves. And those waves could very well reach the shores of the United States, which may be fair and appropriate considering the level of American involvement in the controversial venture. The Super League, to which 12 English, Spanish and Italian clubs have signed up as permanent members, will be backed by an American bank and will feature three teams (Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United) with American owners.
They have stated their intention to go to war with the powers of soccer. They have also expressed their willingness to accept the consequences of that war and the possible destruction of the organization that has underpinned the sport for decades. Ultimately, this showdown between the 12 separatist clubs (with 20 planned) and the governing bodies will turn into a global chicken game. To what extent will FIFA and UEFA protect their dominance over sport? If they go all the way, as they have already threatened to do, the United States team could be caught in the crossfire. The first four players mentioned here (Dest, Pulisic, Steffen and McKennie) play for Super League clubs. If those clubs are kicked out of the competitive structure of soccer, there may be an effort to ban those four from wearing a USA jersey.
For years, American fans, coaches and administrators longed for the day when American players could compete at the champion level. Now, due to the arrogance and greed of some of those clubs, that progress could cost the US the same thing it was prepared to profit from.
No one on this side of the world is officially speaking at the moment. The US Soccer Federation and Concacaf are waiting to gather more information and see where the front lines of battle are drawn. But a statement issued in January, when there was considerable noise in the Super League, still stand. It was signed by FIFA President Gianni Infantino and the presidents of each of the six continental confederations.
“Any club or player involved in such [breakaway] Consequently, the competition could not participate in any competition organized by FIFA or its respective confederation ”, it said, in part.
It is understood that Concacaf and its president, Victor Montagliani of Canada, remain firmly in the corner of FIFA and UEFA and will likely support any sanctions that protect the integrity of the current governance and competition structure. American coach Gregg Berhalter intends to rest many of his first-choice European players during this summer’s Concacaf Gold Cup, so even if an international ban on Super League players is enacted soon, it is likely not hitting the United States until the September World Cup qualifiers. However, if it became a problem at that point, it would be a huge story.
UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin has already said that Super League players will not be able to play for their national teams. UEFA controls this summer’s Euro Cup, but the World Cup and its qualifiers are run by FIFA. A FIFA statement issued on Sunday night expressed its “disapproval” of the Super League, but did not describe specific sanctions. Infantino is expected to address this week’s UEFA Congress soon, perhaps on Tuesday.
The Super League represents an assault on the center of power of the game. Its release would also affect FIFA’s results, as Infantino has been championing a biennial 24-team Club World Cup that would effectively be undermined by the Super League. The question Infantino and FIFA members face is: Are you willing to threaten your own goose that lays the golden eggs, the World Cup, to defend existing structures, set a binding precedent and protect your Club World Cup project? A World Cup without players from the Super League clubs would be a shell of their potential self, robbing countries like Spain, England, Italy, Brazil and others of a significant portion of their first-choice team, not to mention the USA of his starting foursome, at least.
Perhaps a World Cup ban would prompt a sufficient number of Super League players to protest, strike, or seek employment elsewhere. Playing international football and participating in a World Cup is surely a more common dream than playing in a closed, elitist and repetitive Super League. Or some may feel that the security and riches promised by the Super League are enough to replace the representation of their country. This is uncharted territory, and the consequences of Sunday’s supernova, both anticipated and unintended, will be far-reaching. The solidarity shown in that January statement may not extend to all national federations. Some do not care about the governance problems of Europe. Broadcast partners and sponsors, who spend millions to partner with the World Cup, may have a say in court if FIFA devalues the competition by banning dozens of stars. And the affected players and their agents, among others, will almost certainly sue FIFA alleging restraint in trade, etc., in an effort to go both ways. After all, it’s not the players’ fault that their employers took this historic step.
The threads are numerous and tangled. It is still possible that some or all of this could be an elaborate bargaining ploy by the clubs, or that FIFA’s influence is minimal in the end. What does seem certain is that as this unfolds, the effects will be felt far beyond Europe and that, as an increasingly influential player in the global game, the United States is not immune. He is co-hosting a World Cup in five years and hopes to hurt one in 2022. He will want everyone to do their best for both of them. But for now, the international future of four of the most influential players in the US is part of the fallout from this weekend’s Super League explosion.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.