Grant Wahl answers your wide-ranging questions, tackling Jonathan Gonzalez's USA-Mexico decision, John Herdman's sudden job change and why a veteran USWNT star may fall just short of 100 caps.

By Grant Wahl
January 09, 2018

We’ve got a Mailbag. You’ve got questions. I’ve got answers. Let’s go:

What are your thoughts on the new poll that came out from Gallup about soccer’s rising popularity passing baseball in the key children-55 demographic, and also matching basketball in the same one? - @ZachLewis3187

It’s a fascinating poll that shows the U.S. sporting culture is changing, and soccer is very much a part of that. The question is straightforward: What is your favorite sport to watch? From a soccer perspective, here are the headlines:

• Soccer is now closer than any sport ever to cracking the Big 3 of American spectator sports (football, baseball, basketball) and has left ice hockey behind (perhaps quicker than I thought it would).

• For Americans under the age of 55, soccer has passed baseball and is close to basketball for No. 2 in the survey behind football.

• Soccer has taken a significant leap forward in popularity since the last Gallup survey in 2013.

In demographic terms, it’s great news for the sport of soccer in the United States. Yet there are a couple things I would note:

• It would have been great to know the second- and third-favorite spectator sports for Americans as well. Very few people watch just one sport, and it wouldn’t surprise me if baseball and basketball do better as second- and third-favorite sports than soccer does.

• I wish Gallup had included eSports in its survey.

• While football (NFL and college), basketball (NBA and college) and baseball (MLB) can draw their U.S. viewers to just one or two concentrated locations, soccer is much more fragmented, which makes it more of a challenge for people like me with delegating media coverage. U.S. viewers interested in Liga MX, UEFA Champions League, England’s Premier League, MLS, Germany’s Bundesliga, Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A, the NWSL and other domestic leagues. International soccer does concentrate more eyeballs, whether it’s for Mexico, the U.S. or other national teams, and obviously the World Cup draws interest from soccer fans the whole world over.

Bottom line: Soccer is growing in popularity in the U.S., and age demographics suggest that should only continue to take place in the coming years.

Soccer
U.S. Soccer's Uncertainty Could Prove Costly in Jonathan Gonzalez Battle vs. Mexico

Do you think the status of the USMNT only having an interim coach had anything to do with the Jonathan González decision, or was it all about missing the World Cup? - @kirchhausen

We can’t know for certain until González explains why he decided to choose Mexico over the United States. But my guess is the emerging star defensive midfielder for Monterrey made his decision on a number of factors, including: The U.S. missing the World Cup, the USMNT leadership vacuum and the hard work of Dennis te Kloese, Mexico’s director of national teams to lobby González.

Clearly, it would have helped the U.S. cause if there had been a general manager or technical director in place, and there hasn’t been one. One thing that everyone agrees Jurgen Klinsmann did well was to recruit dual nationals to choose the U.S., and the loss of González is the biggest of its kind since Giuseppe Rossi chose Italy over the United States. It hurts even worse, to some extent, because González had played for years in U.S. youth national teams.

Are things really as bad as they seem for U.S. Soccer now? - @DogfishBradford

In terms of the men’s side, I would call it the lowest point for U.S. Soccer since 1985. (World Cup ’98 was awful, but at least the U.S. made the World Cup.) All things considered, 1985 was horrific: Not only did the U.S. fail to qualify for World Cup 1986, but there was no domestic outdoor league after the failure of the NASL, and the federation had essentially no money. At least now, MLS is established and the federation has a $140 million surplus. That said, things are rough right now: The USMNT failed to qualify for the World Cup, there’s a leadership vacuum (with nobody knowing who the next federation president will be) and important players like González are choosing to leave U.S. Soccer and play for its archrival Mexico.

What’s your take on John Herdman’s move to the Canadian men’s national team? Why the sudden change in the year before a Women’s World Cup? - @timwszalek

Why did Herdman get demoted to the Canadian men's team? Seriously, how is this a good move for him, why was his assistant immediately made the new women’s head coach, how did the federation handle this communication so badly, and how are the women impacted? - @purplethedog

The news came across as a shock on Monday night: Herdman, the longtime Canadian women’s coach, had been appointed the new Canadian men’s coach to replace Octavio Zambrano. Clearly, Herdman wanted to be the men’s coach, or he wouldn’t have pushed for it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and it should be fascinating to see if Herdman coaches his men’s team with the same style he used to coach the women’s team. It did surprise me that star player Christine Sinclair wasn’t aware of the decision before it was announced, considering her stature in the game. But I can only presume that Canada Soccer didn’t want the secret to get out until they announced it.

What are your favorite soccer shorts of all time? - @NathenMcVittie

As Nathen knows, I collect soccer uniform shorts. (Not shirts, which in my opinion look kind of silly on a grown adult.) The holy grail for me would be a pair of the red U.S. shorts that went with the denim shirts at the 1994 World Cup. The pairs I have most enjoyed wearing to the gym lately have been my blue Iceland Errea shorts and my navy and white U.S. 100th anniversary shorts with the old-fashioned shields on them.

Yes, I’m kind of a dork about this stuff.

Soccer
Timing of Coutinho Transfer Satisfies Barcelona's Future Needs, Liverpool's Immediate Ones

Any league besides the big 5 in Europe and MLS that you follow or would like to follow on a regular basis? - @FAS4284

Liga MX. I watch the playoffs, but I’d like to dive in even more. It’s the most popular soccer league in the United States, after all.

Why won't Ellis just give Krieger 2 more caps? It's ridiculous and mean! - @J92226

Ali Krieger has had a terrific national team career, but I’ve never been a big fan of giving caps just to get someone over a milestone (Krieger is two shy of 100 for her career). Caps should always be earned. The question is whether Krieger will earn Ellis’s trust again.

Soccer
SUM's Role in U.S. Soccer a Contentious Part of Athlete Council's Election Survey

How long until we see Christian Pulisic as captain of the USMNT? - @x23sharks23x

I hope it will be a little while yet for a couple reasons: 1) Current captain Michael Bradley is still just 30 years old and can still bring a lot to the national team, including leadership, and 2) Pulisic is 19 years old. By all means, Pulisic’s leadership role should increase with the USMNT, and his words, actions and play all suggest he can do that. But there’s no need to make him the captain yet. There’s enough pressure being the best player on a U.S. team that needs to return to respectability over the next couple years.

What is status on American clubs receiving compensation fees for youth players? Have any USSF presidential candidates addressed this? - @d_seks

It currently doesn’t happen, and I’m hoping it becomes a bigger issue in the presidential election in the coming weeks.

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