I probably wouldn't be a soccer fan if it wasn't for the United States men's national team.
Growing up I was a huge baseball fan. The Atlanta Braves were all I cared about. I could recite the team's batting order by the age of five. At the age of 12, I was home during a summer vacation dying of boredom when I came across a TV channel called Fox Sports World. It mostly aired old Premier League replays and some Argentine league soccer. I was intrigued.
That same summer just happened to be the year of the 2002 World Cup in South Korea/Japan. Being a kid with nothing to do, I had no problem staying up until 4 a.m. to watch TV. I happened to stumble upon ESPN's coverage of the tournament for the opening match of the tournament, Senegal vs. France. My knowledge of soccer was pretty much zilch at the time, but the analysts kept saying that France was amazing because they are the defending World Cup and European champions.
Senegal would go on to pull off a huge upset in that match and my interest was piqued. As the tournament went on we finally got to the USA's first group match. I didn't know anything at all about the team. I just had the guys on TV to tell me what to expect. All they talked about was some guy named Claudio Reyna being injured and that it was a huge loss. With the team already being massive underdogs, it didn't look very good for them going up against the FIFA World Player of the Year in Luis Figo.
Having gone into the game expecting to lose, what I witnessed through that 90 minutes changed my life. After seeing the USA fight and claw to pull off that win, I was hooked for life. And the rest, as they say, is history. I've been a soccer junkie ever since.
That 300-word lede finally brings me to my point.
Following the national team in this country is a path the majority of soccer fans have taken to get where they are. This is the reason that American soccer supporters, for the most part, have a Country over Club mentality. Unlike in Europe where it's undeniably Club over Country, the national team is the main attraction in the USA.
Some say there wouldn't even be an MLS today if not for that 2002 World Cup run to the quarterfinals by the USMNT. That was the moment that sparked significant interest in soccer in this country. It's understandable that the national team holds more weight here than a lot of other countries. Some will argue that it's unhealthy, but it is what it is. You can't all of a sudden change the majority's interest just because it's a non-traditional way of supporting.
As MLS grows and each club within it gets older and older and gains more history, the club game will start catching up with the national team. That mentality of 'do whatever we can to improve the national team at all costs' will fade just like it has in almost every other part of the world. The USSF won't like it, but it's an organic reaction of organic support. It's inevitable.
I'll likely always support the national team over everything. I'm sure Atlanta United will shift the balance slightly once they enter the equation but it's just who I am as a result of how I became a supporter. There are many like me. Once the next few generations grow up with MLS and other American leagues their whole lives, that mentality will die off and we'll see a Club over Country mindset like most other countries have.
People want to change the mentality of American soccer overnight. It took 20 years for the game and the community to finally reach some sort of stability after decades of irrelevance. Over time the mentality will slowly and organically change, whether we like it or not.